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SPECIAL REPORT: Fentanyl becoming a problem in Calexico

Calexico, Calif. (KYMA, KECY) - From June 2020 through May 2021 two thirds of more than 100,000 drug-related deaths in the U.S. were tied to Fentanyl overdoses. 

Mexico is now the dominant source of Fentanyl and smugglers are determined to sneak the drug in at any cost regardless of how many people die from it. 

Tens of thousands of people come through U.S. port of entries every single day. Most are just going about their day-to-day, but it's what you can't see that makes these ports hot spots for drug smuggling.

Like the Calexico Port of Entry, where U.S. customs and border protection officers are trained to make a split-second decision. Javier Garcia is the supervisor CBP officer in Calexico, he says officers have to be attentive to every single detail

“Officers look for a change in behavior whenever a traveler is applying for entry so they are looking for the odd story or something in the car that doesn’t fit,” he said.

Here locally, U.S. Border Patrol agents also seize drugs after smugglers have made it past customs.
Just last month USBP seized this bag of narcotics. 

Agents say this bag alone was worth about $379,000.  

Officers look for red-flag indicators to determine whether or not they will extensively search someone’s vehicle.

It’s why CBP says smugglers are getting more creative and spending extra time and money to execute their illegal drug crossing missions.   

“They’ll use bumpers, any natural voids in a vehicle to try to put narcotics inside and try to bring them across,” Garcia said.

CBP says about 99% of these travelers are legitimate, but it’s that 1% who try to break the law. 

With high fentanyl production so close to our backyard, making its way across our border, officers are doing everything they can to curve the flow.

Some tactics however could not be shown on TV to prevent smugglers from working around them.

“Some information unfortunately I can not share with you on stuff we do to identify the way we do our inspections,” Garcia said.

When CBP sees the price of narcotics go up it's usually a sign officers are doing their jobs and being effective by stopping the supply.

Another thing to take note of these drugs aren’t always meant for these local communities across the Valley, sometimes these drugs make it as far as cities like Bakersfield.

Calexico Port Director Ryan Koseor says because fentanyl is so expensive, smugglers are willing to go to any lengths to bring it in, including body carriers.

"Sometimes they will have it strapped to them, it looks like duck tape to them," he said.

But it all comes with a price, data shows In 2020 after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, overdose deaths jumped to previously unseen levels and eventually claimed nearly 92,000 lives that year, that’s 21,000 more than in any previous year.

Overdoses are happening even at the Calexico Port of entry

"We have seen people who have overdosed here who have been exposed, we have some E-M-T’s on-site, they are trained on the issuance of Narcan and they have done that," Koseor said.

This year alone, CBP says there have already been about 2,000 fentanyl busts across the U.S. Mexico Border.

CBP says smugglers also hide the drugs in their bodies, officers didn’t go into much detail instead, they told me to use my imagination. 

With more and more deaths as a result of this opioid, officers fear there’s no end in sight.

"It’s one of those drugs the slightest amount could be a killer, so that’s the problem so it could get a lot worse," Koseor said.

Could get a lot worse Koseor says, which means more overdoses. Another fear is that criminal organizations are evolving and will soon be able to produce an even wider variety of synthetic opioids, something CBP is hoping officers can also stop from crossing into our country. 

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Wiley Jawhary

Wiley Jawhary is from Orange County California. He joined KYMA/KSWT in April of 2021.

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