War Against Heroin Being Lost In Bureaucratic Fog

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Ethan Barton Editor in Chief
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Heroin deaths and addictions are skyrocketing despite layers of federal agencies and task forces dedicated to catching drug smugglers entering the U.S. to supply junkies with their fixes.

At least three Department of Homeland Security agencies are responsible for preventing narcotics from entering the U.S. Yet, heroin — which almost exclusively comes to America via smuggling — has become so prevalent that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now calls it an epidemic.

“Between 2002 and 2013, the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths nearly quadrupled, and more than 8,200 people died in 2013,” the CDC said. Meanwhile, heroin users increased by nearly 63 percent during that time.

Also since 2002 — the year the Department of Homeland Security was created — the number of heroin addicts doubled, according to the CDC.

DHS is responsible for preventing dangerous drugs from entering the country through both legal and illegal border crossings. The Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI and local and state police are also responsible for catching drug dealers.

Since the heroin supply is mainly foreign, DHS is the primary agency responsible for stopping the opioid from entering the U.S.

“Heroin in the United States in the Midwest and West coast is primarily Mexican heroin,” DEA Special Agent Matt Barden told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The Northeast and the East coast is primarily Colombian heroin.”

DHS’s agencies create layers of barriers to prevent drug smuggling, where the Coast Guard is the “first line of defense,” according to its website, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection stops drugs from entering the country at the border and at air and sea ports.

“We’re the ones that deal with whoever and whatever is wanting to come into the country,” CBP Tactical Operations Division Director Christine Waugh told TheDCNF. “We’re responsible for everything that comes to the doors of the United States.”

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations track down smugglers’ heroin suppliers before the drugs ever reach the U.S. HSI’s investigations often begin with information obtained from an apprehended smuggler and follow leads to other cities, states or even countries.

There are also several task forces that bring multiple agencies together to strengthen drug interdiction efforts, such as the Southern Border and Approaches Campaign.

“Bringing together the agencies that have the shared border mission is helpful,” said HSI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Adam Parks. “The more that we do that, the more that agencies … can get together to bring their certain unique insights to their organizations in a joint effort.”

“Do things still slip through? Yes,” he continued. “But is that an indictment of the job we’re doing? I think no.”

But DHS’s internal watchdog, the inspector general, only recently began its first-ever audit to scrutinize how efficiently the department prevents drugs from entering the country.

“This audit is in its very early stages,” said IG spokeswoman Erica Paulson. “We do not expect a final report for several months. We do not have previous work on this topic. The auditors chose this project because it is a large budget item with no prior audit oversight from our office.”

Also, increases in heroin seizures aren’t just a reflection on agencies’ proficiency.

“There’s no doubt we are getting better,” Barden said. “We catch on to the ways of smuggling. We are learning very quickly. But it’s also the fact that Mexico is becoming a huge source of supply for heroin. Because they’ve been sending more, we’ve been catching more.”

Unlike cocaine and marijuana, heroin is especially difficult to catch because it’s smuggled in small quantities — typically no more than a few pounds at a time.

“Heroin is coming in in small amounts, just because they can make more money on it,” Waugh said. “That’s absolutely a challenge.”

Such high-dollar, low-volume trafficking is extremely difficult to catch.

“They smuggle it in however they know they can beat you,” Barden said. “They might put it in legitimate loads on a tractor trailer, they might try to smuggle five pounds of drugs in hidden compartments in a vehicle.”

Often, it comes via body carriers — people who put heroin into a container, like a balloon, before inserting it into their bodies.

“The individual that swallows three pounds of heroin, that’s very difficult to stop,” Parks said.

If these smugglers don’t raise alarm while entering the U.S., it’s unlikely they’ll be caught by CBP.

“It’s a consistent challenge for us with the body carriers,” Waugh said.

Most often, cartels help immigrants sneak over the Mexican border for the price of carrying a backpack with heroin.

But stopping heroin smuggling doesn’t just affect border states.

“My fear is that across America, it’s starting to become the drug of choice,” Parks said.

For example, Baltimore — far from the Mexican border — has been called “the heroin capital of the United States.”

“It’s kind of a family tradition in Baltimore,” Parks said. “There are multi-generational families of heroin users.”

Most of that heroin is flown into John F. Kennedy International Airport through body carriers and is accumulated before being shipped to Baltimore, Parks said.

In other words, for a Baltimore junkie to get a needle full of heroin into his arm, the drug must bypass CBP, numerous state and local police, and HSI, FBI and DEA investigations.

With a reported 48,000 heroin addicts in Baltimore, that journey is accomplished over and over.

YESTERDAY: America’s Heroin Epidemic Fueled By Illegal Immigrants.

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