(Published January 25, 2021) This report examines the relatively new and emerging problem of fentanyl and fentanyl analogue trafficking. It summarizes the Commission’s related policy work and discusses the continuing policy-making efforts of Congress and the Department of Justice in this area. Finally, the publication presents data about fentanyl and fentanyl analogue offenses since 2005 and provides an in-depth analysis of fiscal year 2019 fentanyl and fentanyl analogue offenses and offenders.
While fentanyl and fentanyl analogue offenders remain a small proportion of the overall federal drug trafficking caseload (5.8%), the number of fentanyl offenders and fentanyl analogue offenders has sharply increased over the last several years.
- Since fiscal year 2015, the number of fentanyl offenders reported to the Commission more than doubled each fiscal year, resulting in a 3,592 percent increase, from 24 to 886 offenders.
- Since fiscal year 2016, the number of fentanyl analogue offenders increased 5,725 percent, from four to 233 offenders.
Many fentanyl and fentanyl analogue offenders trafficked more than one drug type.
- Almost half (45.2%) of fentanyl offenders also trafficked at least one other drug. The most common other drugs were heroin (59.8%) and powder cocaine (35.5%).
- Over half of fentanyl analogue offenders (58.4%) also trafficked at least one other drug. The most common other drugs were heroin (52.2%), fentanyl (40.4%), and powder cocaine (24.3%).
- Five fentanyl analogues, carfentanil, furanyl fentanyl, acetyl fentanyl, 4-fluoroisobutyryl fentanyl (or para-fluoroisobutyryl fentanyl), and cyclopropyl fentanyl accounted for 76.4 percent of the fentanyl analogues trafficked in fiscal year 2019.
- Nearly all fentanyl and fentanyl analogues trafficked in fiscal year 2019 were illicitly manufactured. Only 18 fentanyl offenders and no fentanyl analogue offenders trafficked a diverted prescription form of the substance.
- For offenders sentenced in fiscal year 2019, fentanyl and fentanyl analogues had distinct trafficking patterns. Fentanyl was more likely to enter the United States through the United States/Mexico border, while fentanyl analogues were more likely to be purchased directly over the Internet or dark web, frequently from China, and shipped by international mail or express package services.
Roughly one-third or more of fentanyl and fentanyl analogue offenders (31.0% and 42.9%, respectively) sold these substances as a different drug, almost always heroin or a diverted prescription medication.
- Just under five percent (4.5%) of fentanyl offenders and nine percent (9.0%) of fentanyl analogue offenders knowingly misrepresented these substances as another drug during a drug transaction.
In fiscal year 2019, fentanyl or fentanyl analogue offenders accounted for almost three-quarters (74.7%) of all drug trafficking offenders sentenced where the offense of conviction established that death or serious bodily injury resulted from the substance’s use.
- Fentanyl analogues are more lethal than fentanyl, as evidenced by the higher rate of death and serious bodily injury resulting from use. Significantly more fentanyl analogue offenses (29.2%) resulted in a user’s death, compared to fentanyl offenses (14.1%).
- Fentanyl analogue offenders received longer average sentences (97 months) compared to fentanyl offenders (74 months) and had the longest average sentences of any major drug type sentenced in the federal system.