The Department of Homeland Security is warning of a continuing threat from Mexican-produced drugs like fentanyl to Americans, predicting that such drugs brought into the U.S. will likely kill more Americans than any other threat the agency has identified.
“In addition to the enduring terrorism threat, we expect illegal drugs produced in Mexico and sold in the United States will continue to kill more Americans than any other threat,” the agency’s Homeland Threat Assessment for 2024 says.
“During the past year, U.S.-based traffickers have become more involved in the mixing and pressing of fentanyl, contributing to more lethal mixes of this already deadly drug,” it says.
There were over 100,000 overdose deaths last year, with 75% tied to synthetic opioids like fentanyl, which is produced in Mexico using Chinese precursors and then transported across the southern land border. The drug is fatal in small doses and is often pressed into fake pills so the user does not know what they are ingesting.
The assessment says that seizures of fentanyl at the border continue to increase through 2023, with Customs and Border Protection on track to seize a record amount of fentanyl, even as seizures of drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine remain steady or decline. The agency noted, however, that those drugs are increasingly mixed with fentanyl. The report warns that drug traffickers in the U.S. have gained more influence over the composition of pills and have distributed more deadly mixtures.
“Fentanyl has appeared more frequently in counterfeit prescription pills, such as Adderall and Xanax, combinations that raise the risk of overdose, particularly for unwitting users,” it says. “Traffickers are also bulking fentanyl powder and pills with the animal sedative xylazine (‘Tranq’), challenging standard opioid overdose treatments.”
Despite that growing domestic role, Mexican drug cartels remain the primary smugglers of drugs like fentanyl. DHS notes the Sinaloa Cartel and the New Generation Jalisco Cartels as dominant in the smuggling business.
The Biden administration has adopted a broad strategy to combat fentanyl deaths, a strategy it says is working. That includes increased investments in treatment and recovery, while also cooperating with other countries to tackle the smuggling trade, while increasing detection technologies at the border. It has highlighted operations that have stopped nearly 10,000 pounds of fentanyl in two months and says it has seized more fentanyl and arrested more criminals for fentanyl-related crimes in the last two years than in the previous five years combined.
Republicans have tied the fentanyl crisis to the ongoing border crisis, as encounters remain high at the southern border. Lawmakers and conservatives have blamed the administration, saying it has fueled the crisis with its policies. The administration has called on Congress to fix a “broken” system and provide more funding.
As part of its threat assessment, the agency also noted that border agents have encountered a growing number of individuals whose names match on the terror watch list. It also notes the record number of migrants encountered, and warns that “terrorists and criminal actors may exploit the elevated flow and increasingly complex security environment to enter the United States.”
It also highlights that the threat of terror violence from radicalized individuals in the U.S. “will remain high, but largely unchanged” with the threat coming from lone offenders or small groups and foreign terror groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS seeking to rebuild abroad.
The assessment also highlights adversaries at home and abroad who will target critical infrastructure, including with cyberattacks.
“We expect the 2024 election cycle will be a key event for possible violence and foreign influence targeting our election infrastructure, processes and personnel,” it says.
It also notes a constant threat from China, whoich it says will use predatory economic practices, including espionage and market manipulation, against the U.S. A relatively new threat it identifies is the use of artificial intelligence to create more believable misinformation, disinformation and malinformation campaigns and to develop more evasive and efficient cyberattacks.
The agency is using the Homeland Threat Assessment as a replacement primary mechanism for the National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS), which will now be reserved for when DHS needs to alert the public about a specific or imminent threat or terror-level change.
“Sharing information with the public on the threats we face is a vital part of protecting our homeland from today’s evolving security challenges,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement. “The annual Homeland Threat Assessment is a publicly available resource on the most pressing challenges facing the nation. By sharing our analysis of the threat landscape, we will enable our partners across state, local, tribal, and territorial government, along with the private and non-profit sectors, to make better-informed decisions that account for these security challenges.”