The Fight Against Fentanyl

Fentanyl Pills
Fentanyl Pills | Image by Drug Enforcement Agency

The deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl has become the center of a multi-faceted crisis that is both national and local in scope.

In recent years, there has been a striking increase in fentanyl being found and seized, including right here in the metroplex.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration seized more than 79.5 million fentanyl-laced pills and nearly 12,000 pounds of fentanyl powder in 2023. The total seizures were equivalent to more than 376.7 million lethal doses of the drug.

So far this year, fentanyl seizures represent over 93.7 million deadly doses.

The Dallas Express looked at the prevalence of the drug here in the metroplex and what officials are doing to combat it.

Dallas’ fight against fentanyl 

In 2021, the Dallas Police Department established an overdose unit. The unit, which investigates all overdoses, comprises a lieutenant, a sergeant, and detectives.

“The overdose unit is one of many ways the Dallas Police Department is combating fentanyl,” Jesse Carr, senior public information officer for DPD, told The Dallas Express.

The goal of the unit is to identify supply sources and figure out how the opioid is being distributed. Carr said this is accomplished using several types of technology to assist with investigations.

“An important component of this is the change in Texas law,” said Carr, referring to SB 645, which makes the manufacture and delivery of less than 1 gram of fentanyl a third-degree felony. “Partnerships, like the ones with the DEA and other agencies, are also key in enforcement and investigations.”

“Most of the fentanyl we encounter in the City of Dallas has been pressed into tablets in the form of counterfeit oxycodone pills,” Carr told The Dallas Express.

The department also has a narcotics unit that focuses on combatting illegal drugs and educating the community about the dangers of fentanyl. The unit regularly gives presentations to various groups across Dallas.

“We encourage the community to start the conversation about the dangers of fentanyl,” Carr added.

The narcotics unit also actively works with the DEA to target and impact the flow of fentanyl into Dallas.

Still, DPD has been hampered by a longstanding officer shortage, fielding only around 3,000 officers when a City analysis advises that approximately 4,000 are needed.

According to the City of Dallas crime analytics dashboard, there have been 2,802 drug offenses committed in Dallas proper this year as of April 5. Drug crime is especially prevalent in Downtown Dallas, which regularly logs more offenses than Fort Worth’s city center. Fort Worth’s downtown area is regularly patrolled by a special police unit and private security guards.

The department was allocated only $654 million this fiscal year, far less than what other high-crime cities like Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles spend on their police departments.

Fort Worth’s fight against fentanyl 

The Fort Worth Police Department (FWPD) created a fentanyl response team in 2023. The team targets fentanyl drug dealers around the city.

Since October, the team has charged three individuals with murder related to the distribution of fentanyl, with more murder warrants to be issued soon, according to Sgt. Benjamin Banes of FWPD.

“Since 2019, we have seen a surge of fentanyl cases here in Fort Worth. In 2023, FWPD responded to over 80 fatal fentanyl overdoses within the city limits,” Banes told The Dallas Express.

The department has also partnered with the DEA and the ATF to target and federally prosecute fentanyl dealers. Banes added that in the past year, the team has made approximately 50 arrests related to its fentanyl investigations.

In particular, southern Fort Worth has seen an increase in fatal fentanyl overdoses, according to Banes.

“It is important to know that fentanyl does not discriminate. It is plaguing every race and socioeconomic category within our city,” he told DX. “Fort Worth PD has met and continues to meet with the stakeholders and leaders of our community to educate them about the issues with fentanyl.”

Banes added that community awareness and cultural change are the key to curbing this epidemic.

State legislation to combat fentanyl

In June 2023, Gov. Greg Abbott signed four bills to fight the scourge of fentanyl, including HB 6, HB 3144, HB 3908, and SB 867, as reported by The Dallas Express.

HB 6 increased penalties for fentanyl-related crimes to that of first-degree felonies. HB 3144 made October “Fentanyl Poisoning Awareness Month” and encourages that it be observed “through appropriate activities in communities to increase awareness of the dangers of fentanyl and potential overdoses.”

HB 3908 mandates that taxpayer-funded public schools must teach a yearly lesson regarding fentanyl and drug abuse awareness. SB 867 enables NARCAN, an opioid antagonist used to reverse overdoses, to be distributed to colleges and universities in the state.

Abbott also launched a data dashboard under the auspices of the Texas Department of State Health Services as part of the “One Pill Kills” campaign, as reported by DX.

The dashboard shows a variety of data related to fentanyl, including deaths. In 2022, fentanyl poisoning-related deaths in Texas totaled 2,197, up from 1,648 in 2021. There was a slight decrease this past year, with 2,152 deaths.

The fight at the border

U.S. Customs and Border Protection data shows that in FY 2023, 27,000 pounds of fentanyl were seized, up 84% from 2022, when 14,700 pounds of fentanyl were seized.

April saw the most fentanyl seized out of all the months in FY 2023, with 3,220 pounds seized. Seizures, however, decreased during the remainder of the fiscal year, with the second lowest amount (1,460 pounds) coming in September at the end of the fiscal year.

FY 2024 has seen its numbers climb slightly, with the high thus far clocked in November at 2,205 pounds seized.

Abbott has been working with the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas National Guard to secure the state’s border with Mexico, hoping to prevent fewer drugs from coming into the state.

Since the start of Operation Lone Star in March 2021, Texas law enforcement has seized over 471 million lethal doses of fentanyl, according to a press release.

“Every individual who is apprehended or arrested and every ounce of drugs seized would have otherwise made their way into communities across Texas and the nation due to President Joe Biden’s open border policies,” the press release reads.

Looking at Texas, the bulk of fentanyl seizures came from the El Paso sector. El Paso’s Field Office recorded an increase of 936% from 36 pounds of fentanyl seized in FY 2020 compared to 373 pounds in FY 2021, according to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

How is the fentanyl getting across the border?

The Cato Institute found that in 2021, U.S. citizens made up 86.3% of convicted fentanyl traffickers, while unlawful migrants accounted for around 8.9%.

In July of 2022, during a House subcommittee hearing on border security and enforcement, officials testified that 73.1% of encounters with fentanyl at the border were with U.S. citizens.

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