Subscribe for 99¢
Opioid crisis continues in St. Louis

Patricia Gillis holds a picture of her son Robert Patrick Stief outside their home in the 4900 block of Reber Place in St. Louis on Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. Her son died of a heroin and fentanyl overdose at the age of 35 on March 3, 2017 in his bedroom at their home. Pictured with her son is his dog Rocky who died a year before and whose ashes are buried with Robert. "We tried everything. I even tried locking him in his room" said Patricia Gillis. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

WASHINGTON • United States Border Patrol Patrol agents seized more than 3,500 pounds of opioids between 2013 and 2017, mostly near the southern border of the United States, and seizures of fentanyl by this federal agency were up by almost 72 percent in a single year, according to a new report by investigators for Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

The report is the latest in a series on the proliferation of opioid use by McCaskill, D-Mo., who is the top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Earlier this month, McCaskill reported that another federal agency, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, seized almost 1,400 pounds of illicit fentanyl in 2017, double that of the year before.

McCaskill's new report on the Border Patrol found that agents there also “play an important role in stopping opioids,” a synopsis of the new report says.

Among its findings:

• The amount of opioids seized by Border Patrol agents almost doubled from 579 pounds in 2013 to 1,135 pounds in 2017. About 98 percent were interdicted along the southern border.

• About three-fourths of illicit fentanyl seized came in the San Diego sector of the border with Mexico.

• Heroin was by far the most-seized opioid. The report said that “between 2013 and 2017, Border Patrol seized the majority of heroin from automobiles and trucks, which accounted for 2,167 pounds (67%) of 3,218 pounds of seized heroin.” Some 662 pounds was seized in 2017, an increase of 73 percent from the previous year, the report said.

• Most of the opioids seized in the U.S. were “well inside the United States, rather than along the border,” with about 70 percent of the seizures occurring more than 10 miles inside the U.S.

 “The majority of those seizures took place in western sectors on the southern border where fencing covers most of the border and where large infrastructure investments have been made to prevent illegal crossings, indicating that opioids are crossing the border through ports of entry and are later being seized by Border Patrol agents at Border Patrol checkpoints,” McCaskill’s report says.

"Opioid overdose deaths are a national public health crisis that has many components, and illicit fentanyl moving across our borders is something that should concern policymakers," McCaskill said in a statement released with the report.

Federal data shows that 63,632 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016, and that about two-thirds involved a prescription or illegal opioid. In Missouri, overdose deaths from opioids rose from under 700 in 2016 to roughly 900 last year, roughly nine times the number that died from heroin or other opioids in 2001, according to state data.

McCaskill’s investigators previously released a report chronicling drug companies’ donations to pain groups.

Political Fix e-newsletter

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Chuck Raasch is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.