At a time when the global illicit fentanyl supply chain has changed how illicit substances are produced and trafficked, the Biden-Harris Administration is announcing a strengthened whole-of-government approach to save lives by disrupting the trafficking of illicit fentanyl and its precursors into American communities. This approach builds on the President’s National Drug Control Strategy and helps deliver on his State of the Union call to beat the opioid and overdose epidemic by cracking down on the production, sale, and trafficking of illicit fentanyl to help save lives, protect the public health, and improve the public safety of our communities.
Less than a decade ago, the supply of illicit drugs was dominated by plant-based drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, or illicit synthetic stimulants, like methamphetamine. These drugs were produced in crude labs, packaged, and then moved into the United States through an illicit production and distribution process managed by established, hierarchical drug trafficking organizations.
Today, the drugs most responsible for killing Americans are illicit synthetic opioids like fentanyl and its analogues, which are easier to produce and transport and also significantly more lethal. The nature of these drugs, and their ease of access and potency, presents a national security, public safety, and public health threat. While the old trafficking structures still exist, the producers and traffickers of these illicit synthetic drugs now regularly exploit lawful global commercial distribution networks to sustain and enhance their illicit business.
Over the last two years, the Biden-Harris Administration has prioritized a whole-of-government evidence-based strategy to address untreated addiction, prevent drug deaths, and dismantle drug trafficking production and supply chains. In close collaboration with State, Territorial, Local, and Tribal partners, this Administration has expanded access to prevention, harm reduction where not prohibited by law, treatment, and recovery services; emphasized private sector collaboration; invested significant amounts of funding for law enforcement efforts to combat illicit fentanyl trafficking; and enabled historic seizures of illicit fentanyl on the border. These actions have contributed to a steady decrease or flattening in overdose deaths for seven straight months of reporting.
To build on the trend of decreasing overdose deaths, the Administration is cracking down on illicit fentanyl supply chains by:
- Leading a coordinated global effort with international partners to disrupt the illicit synthetic drug trade. Building on the Biden-Harris Administration’s work to successfully schedule nearly a dozen precursor chemicals with global partners through the United Nations’ Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the United States is building a global coalition to accelerate efforts against illicit synthetic drugs and employing bilateral and multilateral approaches to prevent illicit drug manufacturing, detect emerging drug threats, disrupt trafficking, address illicit finance, and respond to public safety and public health impacts. This global coalition will develop solutions, drive national actions, and create synergies and leverage among like-minded countries who agree that countering illicit synthetic drugs must be a global policy priority.
- Strengthening coordination and information-sharing among U.S. intelligence and domestic law enforcement agencies. It is essential to improve coordination and information/intelligence sharing across the Federal government and with State, Territorial, Local, and Tribal partners to strengthen our ongoing investigative and analytical efforts to target drug traffickers and dismantle their networks. The Biden-Harris Administration will improve tracking of pill presses and their spare parts, including die molds, used to transform powder fentanyl into pills, in collaboration with state and local law enforcement; strengthen Federal law enforcement coordination to increase seizures of bulk cash being smuggled at the Southwest Border; and better track and target the origins, shipments, and destinations of precursors and equipment used to produce illicit fentanyl and its analogues, including by enhancing collaboration across the Federal government’s targeting, screening, and analysis programs.
- Accelerating work with the private sector globally. Illicit drug traffickers often use legitimate commercial enterprises to access significant capital resources, collaborate with raw material suppliers across international borders, use technology to fund and conduct business, and innovate production and distribution strategies to expand their markets. To disrupt these criminals’ access to capital and materials, the Biden-Harris Administration is launching a whole-of-government effort, in partnership with the private sector, to strengthen cooperation with international and domestic express consignment carriers to interdict more illicit substances and production materials; educate companies on safeguarding against the sale and distribution of dual-use chemicals and equipment that could be used to produce illicit fentanyl; and intensify global engagement with private chemical industries.
- Further protect the U.S. financial system from use and abuse by drug traffickers. Drug traffickers, who are primarily driven by profits, require significant funds to operate their illicit supply chains. The Biden-Harris Administration will expand its efforts to disrupt the illicit financial activities that fund these criminals by increasing accountability measures, including financial sanctions, on key targets to obstruct drug traffickers’ access to the U.S. financial system and illicit financial flows. We will also strengthen collaboration with international partners on illicit finance and anti-money laundering efforts related to drug trafficking.
- Continue to call on Congress to close legal loopholes for illicit synthetic drugs. Traffickers are continually altering the chemical structure of fentanyl to evade regulation and prosecution under the Analogue Act, sometimes with tragic results. Congress temporarily closed this loophole by making all fentanyl-related substances Schedule I. However, this measure expires on December 31, 2024. The Administration continues to call on Congress to permanently schedule all illicitly produced fentanyl-related substances into Schedule I and to take other complementary actions to enhance public health and public safety, consistent with the comprehensive proposal developed jointly in 2021 by the Department of Justice, Department of Health and Human Services, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
These actions build on the progress made by the Biden-Harris Administration to reduce the supply of illicit drugs:
- The Department of Justice-led Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces coordinated 427 joint investigations involving fentanyl in Fiscal Year (FY) 2022, leading to 3,961 defendants, 3,337 convictions, and 130 fentanyl network disruptions or dismantlements.
- The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Operation Blue Lotus, a new and robust surge operation, launched on March 13th to target illicit fentanyl. Led by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and working with federal, state, tribal and local partners, DHS is investing additional personnel, technology, and other resources along the southwest border to detect and seize illicit fentanyl at and between ports of entry. In its first week, Operation Blue Lotus stopped more than 900 pounds of illicit fentanyl from coming into the United States.
- The Drug Enforcement Administration seized over 57.5 million fentanyl-laced, fake prescription pills and 13,740 pounds of fentanyl powder in calendar year 2022.
- CBP seized 14,700 pounds of fentanyl in FY 2022, which is an approximate 31 percent increase from the amount seized in FY 2021 (11,201 pounds).
- HSI seized more than 21,000 pounds of fentanyl in FY 2022 by targeting the supply chains responsible for foreign-origin shipments of fentanyl and their precursor chemicals.
- The U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) seized approximately 150 percent more fentanyl in FY 2022 than the prior year. The majority of these seizures were mailed domestically from the Southwest Border region of the United States. USPIS has created a Southwest Border Initiative to stop the influx of illicit synthetic opioids smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border then placed in the domestic mail system to be distributed within the United States.
- The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP)’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program reported seizures of more than 26,000 pounds of fentanyl in the last year.
- The Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has designated nearly 100 individuals and entities for their role in the illicit drug trade, including trafficking fentanyl and precursor chemicals, pursuant to Executive Order 14059 “Imposing Sanctions on Foreign Persons Involved in the Global Illicit Drug Trade,” signed by President Biden in December 2021. This E.O. builds on two decades of deliberate and impactful sanctions imposed pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act. These designations included individuals and entities tied to major trafficking organizations such as the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels, along with their key global enablers and facilitators.
- The Department of State has rallied the global community at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs to place international controls on 14 key fentanyl analogues and precursors since 2016, leading efforts around the world to stop the spread of illicit synthetic opioids through more consistent controls by foreign governments.
In addition to these actions to reduce the supply of drugs, the Administration is accelerating public health initiatives to save lives, for example by:
- Equitably expanding availability and access to opioid overdose reversal products, including the first nonprescription drug approval of naloxone, and delivering more life-saving naloxone to communities hit hard by fentanyl.
- Launching a national campaign to educate young people on the dangers of fentanyl and how naloxone can save their lives.
- Working to close the addiction treatment gap by working with medical professionals to make prescribing proven treatments for opioid use disorder part of routine health care delivery, and ensuring that manufacturers, wholesalers, and pharmacies are making medications available to everyone with a prescription. This also includes providing addiction treatment while individuals are in jails and prisons, and continuing their treatment in their communities, which has been proven to decrease overdose deaths, reduce crime, and increase employment during reentry.
To support this Administration’s Strategy and to address illicit fentanyl, President Biden has called on Congress to make an historic investment of $46.1 billion for National Drug Control Program agencies, overseen by the White House ONDCP. The FY24 budget request represents a $5 billion increase from the FY22 request and a $2.3 billion increase over the FY23 enacted level. The FY24 budget includes more funding for efforts to reduce the supply of illicit drugs like fentanyl and stop drug trafficking. It also includes greater funding to support the expansion of prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and recovery support services.