Largest fentanyl bust in U.S. history, 254 pounds seized at Arizona border crossing

CBP agents stand beside drugs seized at Arizona's Port of Nogales. (Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

PHOENIX, Ariz. — U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials have announced their biggest fentanyl bust ever, saying they captured nearly 254 pounds of the deadly synthetic opioid from a load of cucumbers and other Mexican produce heading into Arizona.

The drug – with an overall street value of about $3.5 million – was found hidden inside a false floor of a tractor-trailer after a scan during an inspection indicated something else was in the load, Nogales CBP Port Director Michael Humphries said.

Agents also seized a much smaller amount of fentanyl pills and a large cache of methamphetamine – with a street value of $1.18 million – and arrested the Mexican national driving the truck.

“It is said that a quarter-milligram, or the size of a few grains of salt, of fentanyl, which is a dangerous opioid, can kill a person very quickly,” Humphries said. The seizure, he said, had prevented an immeasurable number of doses of the drug “that could have harmed so many families.”

Mexican traffickers have been increasingly smuggling the drug into the United States, mostly hidden in passenger vehicles and tractor-trailers trying to head through ports of entry in the Nogales, Arizona and San Diego, California areas.

Fentanyl has caused a surge in fatal overdoses around the U.S., including the 2016 accidental death of pop music legend Prince, who consumed the opioid in counterfeit pills that looked like the narcotic analgesic Vicodin.

U.S. law enforcement officials say the illicit version of the painkiller is now seen mostly as a white powder that can be mixed with heroin for an extra kick as well as blue pills that are counterfeits of prescription drugs like oxycodone.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials have said that while 85 percent of the illicit fentanyl is seized at San Diego-area border crossings, an increasing amount is being detected on the Mexican border with Arizona, a state where the Sinaloa cartel controls the drug trade and fatal fentanyl overdoses are rising.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a recent report that fentanyl is now the drug most often involved in fatal overdoses across the country, accounting for more than 18,000, or almost 29 percent, of the 63,000 overdose fatalities in 2016.

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