DEA Launches Project Wave Breaker to Stop Flood of Deadly Fentanyl
New initiative focuses on stemming the tide of synthetic fentanyl flowing into the United States
SAN DIEGO – Today the Drug Enforcement Administration announced a new initiative, Project Wave Breaker, to disrupt the flow of deadly fentanyl into the United States.
Project Wave Breaker will direct interdiction, enforcement, and outreach efforts to the San Diego Field Division (SDFD) to disrupt the flow of fentanyl in and around the United States. The initiative will also employ analytical intelligence assets to target the activities of Mexican transnational criminal organizations, which are the primary suppliers and distributors of illicit fentanyl and fentanyl substances throughout the United States.
“While a major entry point for fentanyl is the Southwest border, the cartels are spreading their poison into communities across the Nation,” said DEA Acting Administrator D. Christopher Evans. “Through this initiative, we’re tackling a very real public health, public safety, and national security threat, identifying the most egregious street-level networks in our communities and working our way up through the supply chain.”
The eleven divisions participating in Project Wave Breaker are credited with 85 percent of all synthetic opioids seized by the DEA in 2020. They include: Phoenix, New York, San Diego, New England, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, San Francisco, Houston, and El Paso.
“In San Diego, our enforcement efforts against fentanyl have been successful in bringing dealers to justice and our educational efforts to reduce the demand for drugs like fentanyl have reached thousands,” said Special Agent in Charge John W. Callery. “Project Wave Breaker will add a nationwide approach to combat fentanyl, which will enhance our efforts as we continue to fight against this deadly poison that has brought heartbreak and loss to so many families across the country.”
Mexican cartels, particularly the Sinaloa Cartel, have capitalized on the opioid epidemic and prescription drug misuse and abuse in the United States, flooding communities with illicit fentanyl and driving the record-setting rates of overdose deaths. The majority of fentanyl available in the United States comes through the Ports of Entry in San Diego and Imperial Counties. From 2019 to 2020, both the number of fentanyl seizures and the total amount of fentanyl seized in the SDFD more than doubled.
According to the most recently published CDC provisional data, more than 87,200 people died from an overdose last year, marking the largest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period. Deaths involving synthetic opioids increased nearly 60 percent during the same 12-month period ending September 1, 2020. Fentanyl deaths in San Diego County alone are predicted to increase from 151 in 2019 to over 450 for 2020, and many of these overdose victims did not know that what they were taking contained fentanyl.
Facts about fentanyl:
- Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is approximately 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent that morphine.
- Fentanyl is often found locally in the form of counterfeit pills that look like legitimate pharmaceutical pills. Of counterfeit pills tested in DEA laboratories, one in four pills made with fentanyl contained a potentially lethal dose.
- A kilogram of fentanyl can contain 500,000 potentially lethal doses. Last year, the eleven divisions participating in Project Wave Breaker seized a combined total of 2,316 kilograms of fentanyl (more than a billion potentially lethal doses).
- The seizure of fentanyl-laced pills along the Southwest border increased more than 89 percent from January 2019 to December 2020.
Project Wave Breaker aims to reduce the amount of fentanyl coming across the Southwest border, reduce crime and violence associated with drug trafficking, and ultimately save lives by reducing the demand for illicit fentanyl. Through Project Wave Breaker, the SDFD will continue to combat fentanyl drug trafficking and death on multiple fronts, including increased enforcement efforts specifically targeting fentanyl dealers and increased community outreach, education, and collaborations with partnering agencies such as the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force (PDATF), United States Attorney’s Office, and District Attorney’s Office.
In another effort to further educate the community on the dangers of fentanyl, the SDFD and PDATF are planning a Fentanyl Training Event for the media. It is vital that the media understands the true dangers of fentanyl as their work is often the main source of information and education for the general public. This training is slated for June, and details will be released in the coming weeks, but some of the highlights will include a discussion of fentanyl trends, its effects on the body, and the overdose reversal drug naloxone as well as a demonstration of how counterfeit pills are made.
For resources and additional information on fentanyl and other illicit drugs, visit www.dea.gov/divisions/facts-about-fentanyl.
 Source: DEA’s 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment and CBP’s 2021 State of the Border