A California National Guard member checks a vehicle for drugs as part of the Guard’s Counter Drug Taskforce.

A California National Guard member checks a vehicle for drugs as part of the Guard’s Counter Drug Taskforce. (California Governor’s Office/Facebook)

Nearly 400 National Guard troops in California are now deployed in a mission to stop people from smuggling fentanyl into the state at its southern border with Mexico, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office announced.

The governor doubled the number of troops working on the Guard’s Counter Drug Taskforce operations across the state and at ports of entry along the border, he said Thursday during a visit to San Ysidro, a district in San Diego.

“The state’s Counter Drug Taskforce is making a profound difference to hold smugglers accountable and take deadly drugs off our streets,” he said in a statement.

So far this year, the Guard has aided in the seizure of 5.8 million pills containing fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, according to the governor’s office.

Fentanyl is an approved prescription pain medication that is increasingly being produced overseas, smuggled across the southwest border and sold illegally, killing about 70,000 each year, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

It also is being discovered mixed with other illicit drugs or used to replace another drug entirely so that users are expecting something else. This has led to a rise in deaths nationwide from fentanyl, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In early 2022, the mission had 30 troops spread across the ports of entry at San Ysidro, Otay Mesa, Tecate and Calexico to support federal agents, said Maj. Gen. Matthew Beevers, assistant adjutant general of the California National Guard.

Another $15 million in annual state funding was given to the mission, which allowed the Guard to add another 155 full-time troops, the Guard said. Thursday’s decision increased the number of troops on the task force to 392. About one-third of the troops are deployed by the governor, and the rest were ordered on the mission by the Defense Department.

The task force focuses on gathering information to interdict illegal narcotics trafficking, utilizing air and ground assets to build criminal investigations, and supporting personnel at border ports of entry to stop illegal narcotics trafficking, according to the governor’s office.

Most of the support is behind the scenes and case analysis, said Lt. Col. Brandon Hill, spokesman for the California National Guard.

“Our criminal analysts are military service qualified personnel who may process, categorize and evaluate criminal information, within the immediate scope of the supported law enforcement investigation, in support of law enforcement counter drug activities,” he said.

Troops also work to reduce demand for drugs in the community by supporting prevention programs in about 90 schools, Hill said.

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Rose L. Thayer is based in Austin, Texas, and she has been covering the western region of the continental U.S. for Stars and Stripes since 2018. Before that she was a reporter for Killeen Daily Herald and a freelance journalist for publications including The Alcalde, Texas Highways and the Austin American-Statesman. She is the spouse of an Army veteran and a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in journalism. Her awards include a 2021 Society of Professional Journalists Washington Dateline Award and an Honorable Mention from the Military Reporters and Editors Association for her coverage of crime at Fort Hood.

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