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Hassan Hosts Homeland Security Event at UNH on Flood of Fentanyl Into State

MANCHESTER — Mexican drug cartels, working with Chinese criminal syndicates, are flooding New Hampshire streets with synthetic drugs like methamphetamines and fentanyl.

With more than 104,000 drug overdose deaths nationally last year, Jon DeLena, Deputy Special Agent in Charge of the New England Field Division for the DEA, said Mexico is the key to the drug epidemic.

“It’s the goal of DEA always to try to map these networks and to take these investigations literally from Mexico to Main Street What we’re doing now in all 11 offices throughout Mexico is trying to target the highest level violators within the Sinaloa Cartel and CJNG (Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación) who ultimately are impacting the East Coast of the United States more than anybody, and right here in New Hampshire as well,” DeLena said.

DeLena was one of several state and federal law enforcement agents who spoke to Democrats Sen. Maggie

Sen. Maggie Hassan Convenes Field Hearing as Chair of the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Spending Oversight at UNH on March 14, 2022. (Courtesy)

Hassan, Rep. Chris Pappas, and Rep. Annie Kuster on Monday for a mini-Homeland Security Committee hearing held at the University of New Hampshire Manchester campus. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen did not appear after announcing she tested positive for COVID-19.

Last week’s Democratic retreat in Philadelphia appears to have been a COVID-super-spreader event as several lawmakers contracted the illness.

Drugs like fentanyl and methamphetamine are replacing heroin and cocaine as the cartels have learned they can manufacture large quantities of the synthetic drugs without relying on growing cycles and harvesting as they have in decades past, according to Matthew Millhollin, Special Agent in Charge for the HSI Boston Field Office.

Millhollin said tons of drugs are coming through the border from Mexico, and there isn’t the manpower to stop it. He said Congress needs to get serious about going after cartels, and that means going after their money.

“We can’t interdict or seize our way out of this problem. We really have to attack those financial networks, take out the assets that these drug cartels have to really affect them,” Millhollin said. 

Michael Manning, Assistant Director of Field Operations Border Security for CBP’s Boston Field Office, said his agency is currently unable to search every car and truck that legally crosses the border. That’s how most of the drugs are getting into the country. He described it as searching for a needle in a haystack, as CBP can scan two percent of passenger vehicles and 15 percent of commercial vehicles for drugs right now. On top of that limitation, the cartels always seem to be ready with a countermove.

“Our adversaries are continuing to get better, and they have unlimited resources,” Manning said.

DeLena said the cartels want as many people addicted to their drugs as possible, and they do not care what happens to people caught up in the cycle of drug abuse. Those cartels are now targeting children, DeLena said, with methamphetamine pills made to look like Adderall, a medication for ADHD. It is a common drug misused among teens, he said.

“When I saw the amount of those pills that were crossing, throughout New England, but particularly here in New Hampshire, it troubled me more than anything I had seen or experienced in my entire career… It’s this relentless move toward widespread addiction, and that’s exactly how these cartels are trying to achieve that,” said DeLena.

Fentanyl remains the major problem for New England. Fentanyl used to come into the country through Chinese syndicates, but the travel and shipping restrictions brought by the COVID-19 pandemic closed that entry, according to Millhollin. So the Chinese syndicates switched to sending fentanyl to Mexico, and then the cartels began importing the chemical needed to make their own.

DeLena said he was recently at a seized cartel drug lab in the Mexican jungle, littered with chemical packaging with Chinese labels. Hassan said that is all the more reason to close the border.

“I’ve visited the southern border several times as senator, where law enforcement officials discussed with me how drug cartels smuggle drugs into the country,” Hassan said. “Those same drugs end up here in the Granite State – and that is one of many reasons why we must secure our southern border, making sure that our border security and law enforcement personnel have the resources and support that they need.”

While Hassan has voted to get more money for law enforcement, she has repeatedly voted against funding a border wall, and she voted against increased interior enforcement, too. She also opposed the “remain in Mexico” policy that drastically reduced illegal crossings during the Trump administration. President Joe Biden backtracked on “remain in Mexico” and brought the policy back.

The problem will get worse without fast action to push back on the cartels, according to DeLena. 

“Cartels don’t care if Americans die. They are only interested in creating more addicts,” he said.

Drugs From Mexico, Deaths in Manchester: NH’s Real Border Crisis

New Hampshire law enforcement is dealing with the one-two punch of fentanyl and methamphetamine, as opioid deaths continue to surge and methamphetamine fuels deadly violence. 

And the source of those drugs is 2,400 miles away at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Last month, Manchester and Nashua reported a combined 95 opioid-related overdoses, a 13 percent increase from December. Nine deaths are believed to be linked to these overdoses.

The figures from last year show a sharp rise in opioid overdoses and deaths, after an initial dip due to the 2020 COVID-19 related lockdowns.

November overdose totals in Manchester and Nashua were up 110 percent from the same time in 2020, according to American Medical Response regional director Chris Stawasz.

“I know there are a lot of competing priorities with COVID-19 and the variants that are out there, but this is, unfortunately, if not more deadly, as deadly as the COVID-19 crisis is,” Stawasz told WMUR.

Manchester had more than 500 suspected overdoses in 2021, 30 percent more than the previous, and Nashua had 250 suspected overdoses in 2021, which was 29 percent more than 2020.

Opioid fatalities are typically linked to fentanyl, the powerful synthetic drug being manufactured by Chinese syndicates and distributed by Mexican drug cartels. Those cartels continue to find ways to smuggle the drugs over the border, flooding American streets.

According to The Washington Post, The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s Laredo field office alone seized 588 pounds of fentanyl during the 2021 fiscal year, an eleven-fold increase over the 50 pounds it snared in 2020.

United States Attorney for New Hampshire John Farley said that while fentanyl is still the state’s main drug problem, methamphetamine is making gains among Granite Staters as well. It is now the second most common drug on the streets. Again, methamphetamine is a product from the cartels, he said.

“What we’ve seen is a real growth in the Mexican cartels manufacturing and distributing methamphetamine,” Farley said. “They are able to produce a cheap and very pure form of methamphetamine, what people call crystal meth, and they are very aggressive in distributing that highly addictive drug.”

One main method of distributing those drugs is dark web marketplaces. According to The New York Times, dark web sites are accounting for more and more of the fentanyl traffic in the country.

Farley said local and federal law enforcement are seeing come up from the border, and then getting shipped to the east coast. Many times, dealers are using the dark web to buy and sell large quantities of the drugs. 

“Almost anyone who wants to find a connection can find a connection,” Farley said.

New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella has said methamphetamine keeps popping up in investigations involving people shot by police officers. The last five complete investigations into fatal police shootings have found people with methamphetamine in their system who turned violent in confrontations with police, resulting in their deaths.

“Methamphetamine and fentanyl distribution continue to plague New Hampshire. As the Attorney General, I will continue to partner with federal and local law enforcement agencies to implement the most effective strategies to disrupt the flow of illegal drugs into New Hampshire,” Formella said in a statement. “It is only by this collaborative effort that law enforcement can marshal assets to protect not only our citizens but the  officers who work tirelessly to protect our state.”

Last year, Claremont’s Jeffry Ely, 40, was shot and killed during an armed standoff with New Hampshire State Police troopers. Ely had been suffering greater mental health problems as he increased his drug use, including methamphetamine, according to the shooting investigation. 

David Donovan, 35, was shot and killed by police in Meredith in November 2020 when he charged at police, armed with a knife and covered in blood from having just stabbed his mother’s boyfriend, according to the New Hampshire Attorney General’s report. Donovan’s methamphetamine use caused him to become violent, paranoid, and delusional in the months leading up to his fatal encounter with Meredith police.

In October of 2020, Ethan Freeman, 37, of Thornton, was shot and killed by Thornton Police Officer Matthew Yao when a naked and bleeding Freeman charged Yao during a confrontation. Freemen had a history of methamphetamine and other drug abuse, as well as a significant history of mental health issues.

In December 2020, Mark Clermont, a paranoid felon who was known to carry an assault-style rifle and wear a ballistic vest while hunting for alien spacecraft, was shot and killed by New Hampshire State Police Trooper Matthew Merrill during a gun battle Clermont had started. Clermont was known to use methamphetamines. Merrill suffered gunshot wounds during the incident. He survived.

Those drugs ending up in the hands of armed dealers and users are a real concern of law enforcement, Farley said.

“We’re seeing a lot more drug dealers who are armed,” he said. “When a methamphetamine dealer is armed, or is using, the public safety risk is substantial. The impacts that methamphetamine has on thought processes can really create a public safety risk.”