MANCHESTER, N.H. – On Monday morning, a special hearing of the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Emerging Threats and Spending Oversight Subcommittee was held at UNH Manchester, discussing the evolving threat of illegal drug trafficking in New Hampshire.
Chaired by U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH), and accompanied by U.S. Representatives Chris Pappas (D-NH-01) and Annie Kuster (D-NH-02), the hearing sought answers from several local and federal law enforcement officials working to stem the tide of opioid-related drugs such as fentanyl in the Granite State.
Hassan noted portions of the recent annual defense bill she crafted with U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) to penalize countries that do not assist the U.S. in attacking opioid manufacturing criminal organizations. During the hearing, concerns were raised regarding the prevalence of Mexican drug cartels in New Hampshire regarding fentanyl, with chemicals used by the cartels coming largely from China. However, it was noted that as the decreasing flow of those chemicals used in the production of fentanyl coming from China, other countries such as India are being used by the cartels to continue manufacturing.
The cartels are also mixing fentanyl into other drugs, including fake versions of legal pharmaceutical drugs, to expand their reach within the U.S. and New Hampshire.
“They simply don’t care if Americans die, they only want to reach more Americans in more ways,” said Jon DeLena, Deputy Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration New England Division.
DeLena stated that 104,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2021, with 65 percent of those deaths coming from fentanyl or substances with amounts of fentanyl in them.
Pappas emphasized the cartels’ use of mixing fentanyl with other substances to avoid federal scrutiny under the Controlled Substances Act, noting his efforts to pass legislation that will make any amount of fentanyl in any amount within a drug as a Schedule I drug.
The importation of the drug by Mexican Cartels has led to local distributors, with New Hampshire Attorney General’s Drug Task Force Commander Ellen Arcieri said that one fentanyl user in New Hampshire was estimated to have distributed 182,000 bags of fentanyl over the course of a year.
Arcieri agreed with Kuster’s assertion that drug rehabilitation efforts must be encouraged to help victims of the drug, but habitual offenders that are providing the cartels and other criminal organizations with income from the sale of fentanyl should be incarcerated to ensure no further relapses.
Law enforcement members on the panel praised the coordination between local, state and federal law enforcement agencies in addressing the opioid crisis, but noted that many smaller police departments do not have the resources to devote to investigating local illegal drug networks.
Members of the panel said that reputation of the law enforcement profession across the country has made it hard to recruit and retain new law enforcement officials to fight the stem of fentanyl in New Hampshire, and that longer-term grant funding is needed to shift the burden of hiring new law enforcement officials off state budgets.
Arcieri also said that rules should be modified to allow retired law enforcement officials additional leeway to mentor new recruits, noting limits in their ability to work following retirement.
Members of the panel also noted the need for international standards on cryptocurrency to help limit the financial ability of the cartels, with cryptocurrency becoming increasingly important in the sale of illegal drugs across the U.S.