Editorial: Multi-agency cooperation critical to stopping fentanyl pipeline to our communities - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: Multi-agency cooperation critical to stopping fentanyl pipeline to our communities

The images and quantities are ever-staggering. Plastics bags filled with hundreds of thousands of baby-blue tablets. Rubber band-bound stacks of $100 bills. Enough guns for an amphibious landing.

Just in the last month, authorities in Albuquerque seized 330,000 fentanyl pills in two separate investigations, along with $142,000 in cash, three semi-automatic rifles, eight handguns and a gold-plated money counter Al Capone would have been proud of.

Yet that’s just a fraction of the fentanyl on the streets in Albuquerque.

Fentanyl pills, meth and cash seized from an Albuquerque home in March.










There’s little debate almost all the fentanyl consumed in the U.S. is produced and processed in Mexico.

And much of it is headed through or to New Mexico.

An attempted State Police traffic stop near the Big I in February led to the seizure of 230,000 fentanyl pills weighing 50 pounds and about $130,000 in cash. SUV driver Edward E. Vallez, 42, is an alleged member of the Sureños gang and has a lengthy criminal history in New Mexico. He crashed his SUV allegedly fleeing State Police and then tried to escape on foot.

FBI searches in late March at the Albuquerque homes of two alleged TCK gang members netted around 100,000 fentanyl pills, $12,000 in cash, three semi-automatic rifles, eight handguns, two bulletproof vests, a grenade fragment vest and the gold-plated money counter.

Prosecutors say Jerry J. Bezie, 34, had “an incredible amount of drugs” at his Southeast Albuquerque home and Julian A. Leyba, 37, was selling “large quantities” of fentanyl pills, meth and guns to motel tenants near Coors and Iliff.

Prior to 2016, fentanyl was most often seen in overdose deaths involving prescription opioids, according to the New Mexico Department of Health. Fentanyl is now found in other illegal drugs such as heroin and cocaine, and only a small amount of the powerful synthetic opioid 50 times more potent than heroin can cause an overdose.

Two of the four in-custody deaths at the Metropolitan Detention Center last year were fentanyl-related. Fentanyl has become the leading cause of death for Americans ages 18 to 49 and is the root cause of many crimes.

A record 107,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2021, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with more than 70,000 of those tied to fentanyl. More than 1,215 New Mexicans have died from a fentanyl overdose in the state since 2019.

Officials in the Biden administration say they’ve mounted the most successful campaign ever against fentanyl traffickers, citing record seizure amounts and recent arrests. Republicans blame Biden’s immigration policies for the increase in fentanyl smuggling and overdose deaths, saying U.S. agents and officers are so overwhelmed and distracted by a record level of illegal migration that they’re too busy to stop illegal drugs from entering the country.

It’s becoming clear Mexico can’t be counted on for help. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said last month his country does not produce or consume fentanyl, despite enormous evidence to the contrary that fentanyl is produced at labs in Mexico using precursor chemicals imported from China.

Customs and Border Protection seized nearly 15,000 pounds of fentanyl during fiscal year 2022, the highest amount ever, and seizures this year are on track to nearly double. More than 90% of the fentanyl stopped by CBP is detected at ports of entry along the Mexican border.

López Obrador says the U.S. fentanyl problem is a result of “social decay” and that we should use family values to fight drug addiction.

Fortunately, societal views are changing, seeing drug abuse not as a moral shortcoming, but as the behavioral health disease that it is.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told a Senate panel recently the record number of Americans dying of fentanyl overdoses is now the “single greatest challenge we face as a country.”

At least they’re waking up.

Some members of Congress are calling on the Biden administration to consider designating Mexican traffickers as foreign terrorist organizations, and several Republican lawmakers have been calling for U.S. military strikes in Mexico against criminal groups and traffickers.

A far better option is “Operation Blue Lotus,” which DHS has intensified to stop fentanyl trafficking across the country’s southern border. The campaign uses new scanning technology, more drug-sniffing dogs and other detection tools to ramp up interdiction efforts and build criminal cases.

State collaboration is vital for interior enforcement, because fentanyl is easy to conceal and can be very difficult to detect. And its low manufacturing cost allows traffickers to make a profit even when some giant loads are seized.

Local, state and federal agencies concluded a 90-day operation last June specifically targeting fentanyl traffickers. Operation Blue Crush resulted in 310 arrests mostly in Albuquerque, Las Cruces and southeastern cities such as Carlsbad, 60% of which were related to fentanyl. Of 130 kilograms of drugs seized, 54 were fentanyl, with a street value of $5.4 million.

We need more coordinated efforts like Operation Blue Crush given the shocking quantities of fentanyl being seized and the numbers of lives being ruined.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill, we must fight fentanyl on the beaches, on the landing grounds, in the fields and in the streets and in the hills, and we shall never surrender.

Complacency isn’t an option.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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