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San Diego: The epicenter of fentanyl trafficking

In the first nine months of FY 2022, U.S. Customs and Border Protection law enforcement agencies in San Diego and Imperial counties seized 5,091 pounds of fentanyl.

SAN DIEGO — More fentanyl is being seized by authorities than ever before. This comes as deaths soar across our region, prompting federal officials to call San Diego the epicenter of fentanyl trafficking.

"The cartel are hiding the fentanyl in pills that look harmless," said Summer Stephan, San Diego County District Attorney.

Fentanyl is responsible for more than 800 deaths in 2021, including twelve children ages 14 to 17.

"Fentanyl has killed more people in San Diego, United States - young people, 18 to 45 than car accidents, gun violence, COVID or any other cause. So this is really an epidemic," said Stephan.

According to statistics released by the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office, fentanyl-related overdose deaths have increased 2,375 percent in San Diego County, from 33 in 2016 to at least 817 in 2021. The total may increase as the Medical Examiner’s Office makes final determinations in causes of death.

According to CBP, seizures of fentanyl in San Diego are up by approximately 323 percent in the last three years, from just 1,599 pounds in FY 2019 to 6,767 in FY 2021. With three months to go in FY 2022, seizures in San Diego in FY 2022 are on pace to meet or exceed 2021 levels.

In Imperial County, seizures of fentanyl increased 272 percent from FY 2019 to FY 2022, from 40 pounds to 149 pounds – with three months still to count in FY 2022.

Just last month, border officials seized more than 600 pounds of fentanyl inside a single vehicle attempting to cross into the United States. That was just days after 50,000 pills laced with fentanyl were seized by police in San Diego.

"Four out of 10 pills they’re seizing have a deadly dose of fentanyl," said Stephan.

In the first nine months of FY 2022, October through June, U.S. Customs and Border Protection law enforcement agencies in San Diego and Imperial counties CBP Field Operations and Border Patrol seized 5,091 pounds of fentanyl – which amounts to about 60 percent of the 8,425 pounds of fentanyl seized around the entire country.

Jaime Puerta lost his 16-year-old son to fentanyl in 2020. He’s now pleading with parents to talk to their children.

"Unfortunately right now, it is the most dangerous time in the history of the united states I believe to be a teenager because fentanyl is in absolutely everything. It's in marijuana. It's in cocaine. We know about these fake pills 100% of all the pills that are being bought off of snapchat, for example, we know for a fact are fake pills made of fentanyl and binder and if they don't die, they become addicted to it very, very quickly," said Puerta.

The U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of California says it’s working with its law enforcement partners in the region to put an end to the fentanyl crisis by targeting drug dealers and holding them accountable.

"We are attacking this on the prevention part on the treatment part and on the prosecution part. We want drug dealers out there to know we are not putting up with this. You’re not just a drug dealer, you’re essentially a killer," added Stephan.

Officials will be putting up posters at the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa ports of entry warning smugglers and dealers of the consequences of bringing the deadly drug across the border, "your fentanyl kills,” the poster says. The signs will be posted in both English and Spanish.

WATCH RELATED: Fentanyl forum focuses on Spanish-speaking communities in San Diego 


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