How U.S. Is Trying To Stop Fentanyl Smuggling

An ex-ray machine, a laser and a dog help Customs and Border Protection officers intercept shipments of fentanyl at NYC’s JFK International Airport.

Inside a cavernous depot on the edge of New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers don masks and latex gloves and sift through hundreds of packages for a sliver of fentanyl, the deadly white powder at the center of a new overdose crisis, USA Today reports. There are few hints about which packages among the 1 million that come through center every day will contain fentanyl or another synthetic opioid. The fentanyl usually comes in just a few ounces at a time, hidden inside an innocuous-looking business envelope, or a tightly taped box, or disguised as a bottle of pills.

Besides their own instincts and training, the officers have three tools: a creaky old X-ray machine, a borrowed handheld laser that can peek inside packages, and a sleek shepherd named Gini, one of a few canines newly trained to detect fentanyl. That’s a dramatic improvement from a year ago, when officers only had the X-ray machine and seized just a handful of fentanyl shipments. “We’ve gotten a lot better at figuring out the threat, figuring out where it’s coming from, and identifying those packages that we need to treat as high risk,” said Frank Russo of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “It’s mainly coming from China and Hong Kong, destined for every part of the United States.” In fiscal year 2016, officers seized seven fentanyl packages; this year, they’ve seized 64 so far, with another half-dozen in the pipeline for testing. Sixty percent of U.S.-bound international mail comes through the JFK facility, and customs officers there have seized about 40 percent of the fentanyl pouring into the U.S.