WASHINGTON (AP) — Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is heading to Mexico this week to promote her agency’s new strike force to help combat illicit fentanyl trafficking as the U.S. and China step up efforts to stop the movement of the powerful opioid and drug-making materials into the United States.
During her visit to Mexico City, Yellen plans to discuss with officials and business leaders ways to combat illegal financing of the drug trade and enhance supply chains through her “friendshoring” program. The main objective of the trip will be to address the issue of fentanyl funding.
On Monday, the newly formed Counter-Fentanyl Strike Force will join forces with personnel and intelligence from various branches of the Treasury Department, including its sanctions and intelligence divisions and the IRS Criminal Investigations unit. This collaborative effort aims to improve the effectiveness of efforts to prevent the entry of drugs into the country.
The formation of the group and Yellen’s visit to Mexico mark the start of the Biden administration’s strategy to intensify its actions against the flow of illicit fentanyl. This plan was initiated after President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in California in November, where they declared that China will instruct its chemical companies to limit the export of substances used in the production of fentanyl to Latin America.
China has once again begun to provide data on suspected trafficking to an international database.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, Mexico and China are the main countries that supply fentanyl and related substances to the United States through direct trafficking. China is the primary source of the necessary precursor chemicals for fentanyl production.
The Treasury task force will examine the economic transactions of trafficking groups, specifically those that utilize cryptocurrency to transfer money. They will also collaborate with law enforcement in heavily affected regions of the fentanyl crisis and utilize financial institution data to identify transactions related to drug and human trafficking.
Fighting the influx of lethal fentanyl into American communities is a major focus for President Biden and the Treasury Department, according to a statement from Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. She noted that the establishment of a new team will enable the department to utilize its unparalleled knowledge in combatting financial crimes to address this fatal epidemic.
The Treasury will utilize all available resources to hinder drug traffickers from selling this harmful substance within our nation.
The Biden administration has implemented various measures to combat fentanyl trafficking. These include bringing charges against influential traffickers for drug and money laundering crimes, as well as revealing indictments and sanctions against Chinese corporations and leaders held responsible for importing the chemicals needed to produce this hazardous substance.
However, fentanyl remains the most lethal substance in the United States currently. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 71,000 individuals lost their lives due to overdoses involving synthetic opioids like fentanyl in 2021, which is an increase from the nearly 58,000 recorded in 2020.
The number of deaths related to drugs has increased by over 10 times since 1988, during the peak of the crack epidemic.
American legislators have suggested various actions to address the widespread use of fentanyl in the United States.
Several of the Republican presidential nominees have indicated their intention to employ armed forces against Mexico as a reaction to the distribution of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.
The Senate Banking and Armed Services Committees, along with other leaders, are pushing for the Biden administration to declare international fentanyl trafficking as a national emergency. They also aim to pass legislation that would require the Treasury to report on this issue and grant the president the power to seize sanctioned property from fentanyl traffickers for use in law enforcement efforts.
This year, Treasury officials, such as Brian Nelson, who is the undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, have been making trips to the southern border in order to collaborate with local authorities on reducing drug trafficking through the use of sanctions.
The strike force will have Nelson and IRS Criminal Investigations Chief Jim Lee as co-chairs.
Nelson stated that the strike force will promptly and confidently utilize the most skilled experts from all areas of the department to efficiently address any new threats that may arise.