Republicans heckled President Biden when he raised the fentanyl crisis during his State of the Union on Tuesday night, drawing attention to the flow of the deadly synthetic opioid over the insecure southwest border and to China’s role in its production.
After introducing and paying tribute to a guest whose daughter died of a fentanyl overdose aged 20, Biden said, “Fentanyl is killing more than 70,000 Americans a year.”
Heckling erupted, with lawmakers shouting “close the border” and what sounded like “it’s coming from China,” before a male voice was heard yelling at the president, “it’s your fault!”
Biden grinned, and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, seated behind him, pursed his lips in a bid to shush the hecklers in his party – not for the first time during the speech. Vice President Kamala Harris appeared bemused.
The president then went on, “Let’s launch a major surge to stop fentanyl production and the sale and trafficking, with more drug detection machines to inspect cargo and stop pills and powder at the border.”
“Working with couriers like Fed Ex to inspect more packages for drugs,” he added. “Strong penalties to crack down on fentanyl trafficking.”
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), identified in some reports as one of the hecklers, tweeted afterwards, “Biden is the Mexican cartel’s best business partner. And their business is murdering Americans with Chinese-made fentanyl.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 71,238 Americans died in fentanyl overdoses in 2021, up from 57,834 in 2020 and from 28,466 in 2017.
The quantity of fentanyl seized by Customs and Border Protection agents at the southwest border has been climbing steadily in recent years, from 2,633 pounds in fiscal year 2019 to 10,586 pounds two years later, and to 14,104 pounds in FY 2022.
Just three months into FY 2023, fentanyl seizures along the U.S.-Mexico border reported by CBP have already reached 7,226 pounds – more than the entire hauls reported in FY 2019 and FY 2020 put together.
How much fentanyl is smuggled across the border and not detected and seized is not known.
“There are no comprehensive data on the total quantity of foreign-produced illicit drugs smuggled into the United States at or between official ports of entry (POEs) because these are drugs that have generally evaded seizure by border officials,” according to a 2020 Congressional Research Service report.