As fentanyl deaths mount in Hawaii, law enforcement targets source of drug pipeline
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - First responders are being called to overdoses daily in Hawaii as fentanyl takes hold across the state. And stopping the drug pipeline won’t be easy, experts say.
To understand the crisis, HNN Investigates traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border as part of a new series exploring the heavy toll of fentanyl in the islands. Anthony Chrysanthis, the deputy special agent in charge of the DEA’s Los Angeles field office, said just about all of the fentanyl and methamphetamine in Hawaii are made in clandestine labs in Mexico run by the cartels.
Fentanyl has been a legitimate pain reliever used by medical facilities for decades.
Only in recent years, did cartels start producing it illegally.
It’s an economical additive, cheap to manufacture and highly addictive. It’s also extremely potent — 100 times more powerful than morphine, 50 times more powerful than heroin.
The Sinaloa cartel and the Jalisco New Generation cartel or CJNG primarily run the drug supply chain to Hawaii and elsewhere, said William Bodner, DEA special agent in charge for Los Angeles.
Gary Yabuta, director of the Hawaii High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program, said fentanyl isn’t just cheap to make, it’s lucrative. “The cartels can make it by the millions,” he said.
Stopping the products from getting into the U.S. is not easy.
HNN Investigates went to the border with Mexico and saw the backup to get through. Hundreds of vehicles lined up at the San Ysidro crossing waiting to pass through the border control area.
“There’s 90 million cars a year that come across that border and about five million trucks,” Bodner said, adding that it would be impossible to search each vehicle. “That’s not practical.”
Customs and Border Protection officers do random searches and act on tips, but most vehicles and pedestrians make it through without a significant search.
Those transporting narcotics then often take the drugs to Los Angeles to be distributed.
“This is a transshipment center,” Bodner said.
Chrysanthis said “epic proportions” of the drugs “eventually end up in Hawaii.”
Fentanyl and meth are made from chemicals that come from China and India. This year, the DEA arrested several groups of Chinese nationals accused of shipping the ingredients to make fentanyl to undercover agents. The precursors were headed to the U.S.; the final destination was Mexico.
Despite those efforts, there is still plenty of already finished fentanyl product to go around.
COMING UP: In Part 2 of this series, airing Tuesday, HNN Investigates will spotlight the efforts of law enforcement seeking to push back against the drug trade to Hawaii.
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