FACT CHECK: Has The US Seized 317 Million Lethal Doses Of Fentanyl This Year?

Brad Sylvester | Fact Check Reporter

Republican Rep. Dave Brat claimed on Twitter that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had seized 307 million lethal doses of fentanyl this year.

This fiscal year, the CBP seized 307,762,423 lethal doses of fentanyl (a lethal dose is measured at 2 milligrams for an adult) at the border this year. The U.S. population is 325.7 million.

— Rep. Dave Brat (@RepDaveBrat) September 19, 2018

“This fiscal year, the CBP seized 307,762,423 lethal doses of fentanyl (a lethal dose is measured at 2 milligrams for an adult) at the border this year. The U.S. population is 325.7 million,” he said on Twitter.

Verdict: True

As of July, 1,357 pounds of fentanyl have been seized this fiscal year by the Office of Field Operations (OFO), according to data provided by CBP. The estimated lethal dose of fentanyl in humans is 2 milligrams, making 1,357 pounds the equivalent of about 307 million lethal doses.

Fact Check: 

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. It is sometimes prescribed to treat patients with severe pain.

Recreational use of fentanyl has grown in recent years. This is partly because illicitly manufactured fentanyl is considered a cheap and more potent alternative to other opioids like heroin and oxycodone.

It’s also more dangerous.

Synthetic opioid deaths increased 264 percent from 2012 to 2015, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that it’s fentanyl driving this surge. In 2016, death rates related to synthetic opioid overdoses (other than methadone) doubled, and there were more than 19,000 opioid-related deaths. A lethal dose is 2 milligrams, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.

Like other drugs, much of the illicit fentanyl supply comes from outside the U.S. (in the case of fentanyl, it comes primarily from China). Yet unlike other drugs, a significant portion of fentanyl is shipped in small quantities through the mail.

“It is actually a much easier process, and a much easier product, to insert into the supply chain, than is cocaine or heroin. The laboratory process is much simpler, the transportation is in much smaller packages, and you can do in an envelope what might take you a truck with a larger product,” William Brownfield, former assistant secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, explained in an interview with WBUR.

This has proved to be a unique challenge for law enforcement.

Drug trafficking organizations “and individual purchasers move synthetic drugs such as illicit fentanyl in small quantities, making detection and targeting a significant challenge,” OFO executive assistant commissioner Todd Owen said in a written statement to Congress.

While delivery through the mail accounts for a significant portion of the illicit supply, most of it is still smuggled in large quantities through the southwestern border. There’s also an increasing level of domestic production, as the equipment and materials needed for illicit fentanyl production are easily obtainable from China.

Despite these difficulties, OFO seized 1,357 pounds of fentanyl from October 2017 through July 2018. That’s up from 1,196 pounds in FY 2017 and 440 pounds in FY 2016.

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Brad Sylvester

Fact Check Reporter

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