WASHINGTON – One hundred faces lined the walls of the Drug Enforcement Administration headquarters in the first week after the fentanyl memorial was created last May. Now, less than a year later, over 4,800 people are memorialized there.
DEA Administrator Anne Milgram called the memorial, which commemorates just a small percentage of the number of Americans killed by fentanyl poisoning, a “call to action.”
Milgram, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, blamed two cartels – the Sinaloa and the Jalisco – as primarily responsible for the widespread fentanyl deaths. The cartels, which are based in Mexico, use chemical precursors to manufacture fake prescription pills with no medicinal qualities.
“We are now seizing fentanyl in all 50 states,” she said. “It is the deadliest drug threat our country has ever faced.”
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said Mexico must work with the U.S. to limit the number of deaths, but that he doesn’t see “willingness, the urgency,” from Mexico to take steps to tackle the crisis.
“I don’t know how many more lives have to be lost for Mexico to get engaged,” he said. “If this were in the reverse, they would be all over us.”
Milgram listed three main ways that Mexico could improve their cooperation with the DEA. The U.S. is calling for increased information sharing on fentanyl and precursor chemicals seized over the border.
The DEA also offered a partnership in order to dismantle clandestine labratories throughout Mexico, as well as for increased extradition from Mexico of individuals charged with drug-related defendants.
Milgram said that cartels don’t care whether they kill their customers – if a user dies, they write it off as “the cost of doing business.” Dealers have access to over 100 million social media users in the U.S. alone, creating a “superhighway” of drug customers.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said border control agents along the southern border are serving a “critical” role in interdicting fentanyl as it crosses the border. He argued that the Biden administration was responsible for hurting the U.S.’s ability to fight drugs.
“This administration made a conscious political decision to open the borders, and one of the results is they have turned Mexican drug cartels into multibillionaires,” Cruz said. “The single best thing that happened to Mexican drug cartels in history was Joe Biden becoming President.”
Some senators criticized the Biden administration for not pressing China to stop fentanyl precursors coming from the country.
Assistant Secretary of State Todd Robinson said he “didn’t know” whether Biden had the opportunity to get to the issue during his call with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“The White House issued a press release last week on its proposals for cracking down on fentanyl trafficking, yet not once was China mentioned,” said Sen. William Hagerty (R-Tenn.). “Moreover, during the State of the Union, not once did the president call out China’s role in the fentanyl crisis.”
Earlier this week, 14 Senate Republicans introduced a new bill that would charge fentanyl dealers with felony murder, a charge which requires a minimum of life in prison. It’s one of several initiatives lawmakers are trying to push to curb the spread of the drug.
“Let me be perfectly clear, addiction is a disease that must be treated, and drug trafficking is a crime that must be prosecuted,” said Rahul Gupta, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. “The opioid crisis is not a red state problem or a blue state problem, this is America’s problem.”