88th LegislatureHealthcareImmigration & BorderIssuesAbbott Prioritizes Fentanyl Trafficking Crisis on Texas Legislative Agenda

The administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration testified that two cartels are responsible for the “vast majority” of fentanyl trafficking.
February 21, 2023
Gov. Greg Abbott made the fentanyl crisis an emergency item on the legislative agenda during his State of the State address last week. Abbott called for legislation that allows prosecutors to bring murder charges against those who traffic fentanyl that causes someone’s death.

“Our porous border has tragic side effects. Fentanyl poisoning has now become the leading killer of Americans between the ages of 18 and 45. This travesty must end,” Abbott said.

When the governor places an item on the emergency legislative agenda, Texas lawmakers can consider it before the March 10 bill filing deadline.

According to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, 883 people lost their lives to fentanyl poisoning in 2020. The number of deaths increased by 89 percent to 1,672 in 2021. The governor’s office reported last week that Operation Lone Star has successfully seized enough fentanyl to kill 362 million people since its launch almost two years ago.

The majority of fentanyl that comes across the border is smuggled through ports of entry via personal vehicles and tractor trailers, according to Anne Milgram, administrator of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

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Responding to questioning by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Milgram stated during congressional testimony last week that the Mexican cartels Jalisco New Generation Cartel and Sinaloa are responsible for the bulk of the illegal drugs entering the U.S.

“It is our top operational priority to defeat those two cartels and to stop the fentanyl and methamphetamine that is flooding into our communities,” Milgram said.

The administrator said the Jalisco and Sinaloa cartels are responsible for the “vast majority” of fentanyl and methamphetamine, and while heroin and cocaine also enter through Mexico, the two cartels do not traffic as much of those two narcotics.

Cruz criticized Milgram for repeating the “talking point” that most of the drugs are coming through ports of entry, instead blaming the “open border policies” of the Biden White House. Republicans contend that criminals crossing the border illegally and evading the detection of border guards is a major portion of the problem.

During spikes of illegal immigration, border agents are often preoccupied with providing humanitarian services rather than focusing on enforcement. Milgram agreed with Cruz that reducing the number of available border agents damages the DEA’s efforts to reduce the flow of narcotics.

Cruz also pressed Milgram to link drug trafficking to the money flowing to the cartels.

“I very much understand your point. We believe that the cartels are making billions of dollars on illicit fentanyl,” Milgram said.

“Is that good or bad?” Cruz asked.

“It is a terrible thing,” Milgram answered.

Rep. Terry Canales (R-Edinburg) also highlighted during a panel discussion at The Texan’s 88th Session kickoff event in January that most illegal drugs are smuggled through ports of entry and not by illegal immigrants crossing the border unlawfully.

Abbott and Col. Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, began warning the public about the increase in fentanyl trafficking as early as May 2021.

In September, Abbott declared groups that traffic fentanyl to be terrorist organizations. The governor and Attorney General Ken Paxton have called the narcotic a “weapon of mass destruction.” At the time he made the declaration, Abbott pointed to the Chinese origin of the “subcomponents” of fentanyl.

Relations with China have been strained after a surveillance balloon traveled across the country before being destroyed by the U.S. military off the coast of South Carolina.

Texas and other states have urged the federal government to designate fentanyl a weapon of mass destruction.


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Hayden Sparks

Hayden Sparks is a senior reporter for The Texan and a lifelong resident of the Lone Star State. He has coached competitive speech and debate and has been involved in politics since a young age. One of Hayden's favorite quotes is by Sam Houston: "Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may."