IN A cavernous warehouse near Los Angeles International Airport, United States Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officers process six packages per second. As cardboard boxes and manilla envelopes from around the world stream through x-ray machines, officers with handguns tucked into their waistbands scan screens for anomalies in the images. Last summer officers at the warehouse found three live King Cobras coiled into aerated potato-crisp cans. On a recent morning they found nothing creepy or crawly, only bags full of dried orange skins and Chinese meat snacks disguised as candy. Mostly, however, they found drugs: counterfeit Viagra, vials of steroids and small plastic bags full of unidentified white powders.

Officers are particularly worried about one drug: fentanyl. Kevin McAleenan, the acting commissioner of CBP, says the drug is the agency’s priority. A synthetic opioid, fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. The drug is largely behind the…Continue reading