Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
As a border state New Mexico is “ground zero” when it comes to illegal drugs, said Kyle Williamson, the special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s El Paso Division, which encompasses New Mexico.
But, he said, most drugs coming into the country and fueling the national opioid epidemic are hidden in vehicles, not smuggled across vast swaths of remote borderlands.
“Most of the drugs that do come into our region come concealed in commercial cargo,” Williamson said. “They come through a legal port of entry, for example.”
And while he said the Department of Homeland Security would be better suited to comment on the effectiveness of a physical border wall, he believes technology and proactive investigations can combat drug trafficking.
“For Customs and Border Protection at the ports of entry, obviously there’s a need for technology to help protect and detect the illegal importation of drugs,” Williamson said. “And manpower down there to get the job done, the human and the technical resources necessary to do that.”
Williamson joined Uttam Dhillon, the acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, and local law enforcement officials in Albuquerque late last week to speak about the exhibit “Drugs: Costs & Consequences” at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. The exhibit opened Saturday and will run through September.
In an interview with the Journal, Dhillon and Williamson discussed an increase in drugs being trafficked across the border and into New Mexico and the rest of the United States.
Former attorney general Jeff Sessions appointed Dhillon as the DEA’s acting administrator in July.
“The vast majority of illegal drugs coming into the United States come through the southwest border,” Dhillon said. “That’s heroin, fentanyl, marijuana. The southwest port is critical to our fight against drug traffickers and drugs in the United States.”
Williamson said agents are increasingly seizing large quantities of methamphetamine and, even more worrying, fentanyl – a synthetic opioid that is 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine.
“Last year in New Mexico alone, here in Albuquerque, we seized enough fentanyl to kill 6.6 million people,” he said. “That’s enough to wipe out the entire state of New Mexico, El Paso, and the entire Mexican state of Chihuahua combined.”
In 2017, almost 500 people died of an overdose in New Mexico. But the state is quickly falling from having one of the highest rates of overdose deaths in the country to being in the middle.
Unfortunately, Williamson said New Mexico isn’t experiencing fewer drug overdoses than prior years, other states are just seeing more.
“In Albuquerque, fentanyl is starting to replace heroin as the drug of choice,” Williamson said. “And Albuquerque has generational heroin use and abuse going back years and years and years.”