Homeland Security Investigations announces Strategy for Combatting Illicit Opioids

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WASHINGTON – Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) today released the Strategy for Combating Illicit Opioids—an intelligence-driven approach to disrupting and dismantling transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) and keeping dangerous substances, like illicit fentanyl driving the overdose epidemic, off America’s streets. To advance the Unity Agenda Strategy to beat the overdose epidemic, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is working with partners at every level of government to stop the illicit flow of fentanyl into the country, including through various surge campaigns launched this year. The strategy announced today leverages HSI’s extensive expertise in investigating cross-border criminal activity and its unique access to customs and financial data to prevent illicit shipments of drug precursor chemicals from reaching U.S. borders. Interrupting the precursor supply chain further prevents the synthesis of drugs like fentanyl and methamphetamines.

“For more than five years now, fentanyl has been causing so much loss of life and destruction in our communities,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas. “We in the Department of Homeland Security, along with our federal, state, and local partners, are committed to combatting this scourge and protecting American communities from it. The new HSI Strategy for Combating Illicit Opioids that we are announcing today will help further align our intelligence and field operations to keep fentanyl off the streets and bring ruthless cartels and criminal organizations to justice.”

“Our nation continues to face an unprecedented epidemic of deaths from illicit synthetic opioids – our citizens are dying every year at an unimaginable rate,” said HSI Executive Associate Director Katrina W. Berger. “This is a bold and innovative strategy to stem the flow of dangerous narcotics and directly addresses the public health emergency this opioid crisis has become. It provides a framework for coordinating our efforts to surge operations, increase targeted inspections, and collaborate with our partners. HSI is determined to apply all the tools in our investigative arsenal and together with our partners advance this counter-opioid fight. We will use every tool and take every action within our power to save lives.”

The strategy is broadly aligned with the National Drug Control Strategy , building on HSI’s unique customs authorities at the border. Primary elements of the Strategy for Combating Illicit Opioids fall within four goals:

  • Reduce the international supply of illicit opioids;
  • Reduce the domestic supply of illicit opioids;
  • Attack the enablers of illicit opioid trafficking: illicit finance, cybercrime, and weapons smuggling; and
  • Conduct outreach with private industry.

The strategy includes an expansion of the Transnational Criminal Investigative Unit (TCIU) program, which is HSI’s primary mechanism for achieving law enforcement outcomes abroad, including the interdiction of precursor chemicals, the shuttering of clandestine fentanyl labs, and the arrest of drug traffickers. HSI TCIUs are composed of host country law enforcement officials, including customs officers, immigration officers, and prosecutors who undergo a stringent vetting process. HSI TCIUs facilitate information exchange and bilateral investigations involving violations within HSI’s investigative authority, including illicit opioid production and trafficking and the associated crimes of weapons trafficking, money laundering, and cybercrime. TCIUs enhance the host country’s ability to investigate and prosecute individuals involved in transnational criminal activity within their jurisdictions, often resulting in disruptions of criminal enterprises also engaged in illegal activity in the United States.

The strategy announced today is part of multi-pronged efforts to combat illicit opioids such as fentanyl. Under Secretary Mayorkas’s leadership, DHS launched of various campaigns designed to better coordinate and surge operations and forces across the department. Operations Blue Lotus and Four Horsemen stopped nearly 10,000 pounds of fentanyl in just two months. U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Operation Artemis is building on that effort by leveraging intelligence and investigative information derived from Operation Blue Lotus to target the fentanyl supply chain. Concurrently, U.S. Border Patrol’s Operation Rolling Wave is significantly increasing inbound inspections at Southwest border checkpoints and HSI is running Blue Lotus 2.0, to continue significantly increasing resources to ports of entry, while increasing coordination of operations to target the fentanyl supply chain.

“HSI’s authorities and dynamic approach to counternarcotics yield impactful investigations that disrupt, dismantle, and lead to the prosecution of TCOs responsible for this global public health crisis,” said HSI Deputy Executive Associate Director Patrick McElwain. “While HSI’s efforts are executed with an unrelenting commitment to public safety, we recognize much work remains at all levels: internationally, at our borders, and across our communities. Through enhanced efforts consistent with those described in the elements of the Strategy for Combating Illicit Opioids, HSI will continue to make monumental strides toward dismantling organizations that place dangerous drugs in the hands of the American people.”

HSI plays a pivotal role in disrupting the supply of illicit opioids at every point in the drug supply chain: internationally, where TCOs source precursor chemicals and manufacture illegal drugs; at our nation’s physical border and ports of entry, where smuggling cells attempt to exploit America’s legitimate trade, travel, and transportation systems; in communities throughout the United States, where criminal organizations earn substantial profits from selling poison to American citizens; and in cyberspace, where bad actors sell illegal opioids on illicit marketplaces.

In fiscal year 2022, HSI seized more than 1.8 million pounds of narcotics and more than $5 billion in illicit currency and assets, dealing a significant blow to TCO operations and criminals seeking to profit from crimes. HSI continues to target supply chains responsible for foreign-origin shipments of illicit precursor chemicals used to produce substances like fentanyl and methamphetamine destined for the United States – drugs that fuel overdose deaths.

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