West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey believes President Biden’s decision to reverse the Trump administration’s “remain in Mexico” policy has led to a spike in fentanyl trafficking and overdoses within the U.S.
Biden ended the policy, formally known as Migrant Protection Protocols, in June. The rule was implemented in 2019 and required asylum-seekers to stay on the Mexican side of the U.S. border while awaiting immigration court proceedings.
“We want the Biden administration to reverse course and prioritize drug trafficking, because if you’re going to shift additional resources over toward migrants and asylum [seekers] and you’re going to allow the surge in fentanyl from Mexican drug cartels to go up even more, you’re talking about a problem of tremendous proportions,” Morrisey told Fox News in an interview. “We’ve already suffered enough during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
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West Virginia, like most other U.S. states, saw an increase in fentanyl-involved overdoses in 2020 amid the pandemic. While state data for 2021 is not available, experts expect the trend to continue if nothing changes.
“We’ve seen a real uptick in the fentanyl that’s coming into our state. Originally, much of the product came from China, and it flowed up through Mexico into the United States,” the Republican attorney general said, adding that officials are “seeing a lot more recently with the Mexican drug cartels” creating more intricate drug trafficking networks within the U.S.
Fentanyl drug seizures at the border reached record highs in 2021, according to data from Customs and Border Patrol, as the Biden administration faces a continuing crisis at the southern border with more than 180,000 migrant encounters in May alone.
Agency statistics show that 951 pounds of the deadly drug – which can be fatal in tiny amounts – were seized at the southern border in May. That is the highest amount seized since December 2020, and a slight increase over April, when 886 pounds were seized.
There have now been 7,450 pounds of fentanyl apprehended during fiscal year (FY) 2021, with four months still to go, dwarfing the 4,776 pounds apprehended in the entirety of FY 2020. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seizures of other drugs including marijuana, cocaine and heroin have generally decreased since 2018.
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The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) on April 27 announced a new project to stop the flow of illicit fentanyl into the U.S.
“While a major entry point for fentanyl is the Southwest border, the cartels are spreading their poison into communities across the Nation,” DEA acting Administrator D. Christopher Evans said in a statement at the time. “Through this initiative, we’re tackling a very real public health, public safety, and national security threat, identifying the most egregious street-level networks in our communities and working our way up through the supply chain.”
Morrisey pointed to some counties that have seen fentanyl overdoses increase between 100% and 250% between 2019 and 2020.
Gerry Schmidt, chief operating officer at Valley HealthCare System in West Virginia, which serves as a substance abuse counseling center, told Fox News that “a good many” of overdoses he’s seen in the state “are related to the increas[ing] influx of fentanyl.”
“Locally, we are seeing heroin and meth and marijuana laced with fentanyl,” he said. “The majority is heroin, and some cases, there is adulterated fentanyl on the street, as well, and the doses will vary depending on who is dealing it.”
He added that “a great deal” of the drugs in West Virginia come from the Midwest — particularly, the Detroit metro area — and East Coast ports.
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“The rural nature of our state lends to more covert distribution, but local law enforcement have joined forces and are really tracking down, even in the real rural areas, many of these distribution centers,” Schmidt continued.
The attorney general has been meeting with local law enforcement agencies, who tell him that “practically any drug can be laced with fentanyl” or an alternative form of fentanyl such as carfentanil and its calling on federal lawmakers to tackle drag trafficking and illegal immigration in national policy.
While West Virginia is not particularly focused on the negative impacts of illegal immigration, Morrisey said “the bigger issue is all of the illicit drug products that blow up across the border and eventually make their way into homes across the country.”
Earlier this month, CBP issued a press release describing a “busy week” seizing fugitives and drugs in El Paso, Texas. Officers seized more than 190 pounds of methamphetamine, 29 pounds of cocaine, 23 pounds of fentanyl, 42 pounds of marijuana in one week.
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Other state officials are sounding the alarm as well.
On Wednesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said that in the first four months of the year, the Texas Department of Public Safety saw an 800% increase in the amount of fentanyl apprehended across the border.
He warned that that was enough fentanyl to kill more than 21 million Americans.
“Without question, we all need to do a better job of educating the general public on the dangers of street drugs now more than ever,” Schmidt said when asked what people should know about illicit fentanyl. “Parents and teachers need to work this into their daily interactions with their kids. More media coverage about the dangers of not knowing what they are buying, even from people they know.”
Street drugs, he added, “are laced, cut, re-cut and mixed with a variety of harmful substances,” and nobody knows exactly what they’re getting.
Fox News’ Adam Shaw and Brie Stimson contributed to this report.