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Combating fentanyl trafficking: Inside the battle with retired DEA Agent Michael Brown

The potency and availability of fentanyl pose significant challenges for law enforcement, with overdose deaths continuing to rise

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Drug addiction is often described as a public health crisis, with the United States seeing a significant rise in overdose deaths over the past two decades. Despite various approaches ranging from harm reduction to using alternative drugs for rehabilitation, the effectiveness of these strategies remains questionable. With overdose deaths soaring from 10,000 to over 100,000 annually, it raises the question: is it time to reconsider our approach and perhaps start a new War on Drugs?

In this episode of the Policing Matters podcast, host Jim Dudley speaks with retired DEA agent Mike Brown, who has dedicated over 32 years to fighting drug trafficking. The discussion centers around the escalating crisis of fentanyl addiction and overdose deaths in the United States, highlighting the challenges faced by law enforcement and the need for improved bilateral cooperation and innovative strategies to combat the issue.

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About our guest

Michael W. Brown has a distinguished career spanning more than 32 years as a Special Agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Most recently he was the DEA Headquarters staff coordinator for the Office of Foreign Operations for the Middle East-Europe-Afghanistan-India. Prior to that he served as the country attaché in India and Myanmar providing foreign advisory support for counter narcotic enforcement. He also spent 10 years in Pakistan as a special advisor to the US Embassy on various law enforcement issues. Michael is a graduate of the United States Ranger Training Battalion and has a master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Technology and Management from the University of Eastern Michigan. He is the global director of counter-narcotics technology at Rigaku Analytical Devices.

Key quotes from this episode

“When we talk about the organizational structure of these cartels, we’re talking about trying to take down a corporation like Google and Microsoft combined. These are major international organizations that are relying primarily on Chinese money launderers to move hundreds of millions of dollars from drug distribution locations in the US back to Mexico. We would need an army of agents working the internet and the dark web 24 hours a day to even begin to impact the flow of that currency.”

“Fentanyl is such a huge success for the cartels and domestic trafficking groups that now we see it taking over other distribution chains such as methamphetamine and heroin.”

“Unless we deal with the supply and reduce the amount coming into the country, there’s no way to effectively treat people before new people become infected.”

Key takeaways

  1. Escalating overdose deaths: Overdose deaths have increased dramatically, with fentanyl being a major contributor. The potency and availability of fentanyl have made it a significant public health threat.
  2. Law enforcement challenges: Despite efforts by DEA, CBP and local agencies, controlling the production and distribution of fentanyl remains difficult. The sheer volume of traffic across borders makes it a daunting task to intercept all illegal shipments.
  3. Domestic and international cooperation: Effective drug enforcement requires strong bilateral relationships. Currently, the US faces challenges in cooperation with China and Mexico, which are critical in the supply chain of fentanyl.
  4. Mental health and addiction: Drug addiction is intertwined with mental health issues, making it crucial to have comprehensive treatment programs. The lack of such programs and support systems exacerbates the crisis.
  5. Innovative solutions for law enforcement: Advancements in technology, such as handheld laser devices for identifying unknown substances, can help law enforcement officers handle fentanyl more safely and effectively.

Additional resources from our guest

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Previously on Police1’s Policing Matters podcast:

Policing Matters law enforcement podcast with host Jim Dudley features law enforcement and criminal justice experts discussing critical issues in policing