Arrests for fentanyl surpass heroin arrests: DEA

Mar 28, 2024

According to a new U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) report, arrests by the Drug Enforcement Administration for fentanyl offenses exceeded those for heroin offenses for the first time in fiscal year 2021. The data for the report were collected from the U.S. Marshals Service, DEA, Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, Federal Bureau of Prisons and U.S. Sentencing Commission.

The report, titled Heroin, Fentanyl, and Other Opioid Offenses in Federal Courts, 2021, shows that during the fiscal year 2021, the DEA made 3,138 arrests for fentanyl, 2,591 arrests for heroin, and 676 arrests for other opioid offenses. Mover, from 2020 to 2021, there was a 36% increase in arrests made by the DEA for fentanyl and a 29% decrease in arrests for heroin.

In addition, there was also an increase (1,528 arrests, or 6%) in total drug arrests over the period of 2020-2021. Arrests for fentanyl offenses comprised 11% of the total, while heroin comprised 9% and other opioids 2% of the total. The majority of drug arrests (55%) were for methamphetamine (33%) and cocaine (22%).

Importantly, the study showed that in 2021, 1,679 persons were sentenced for drug offenses involving fentanyl, corresponding to a 45% increase from 2020. The analysis also showed that among individuals sentenced for an opioid-related offense, 89% received a prison term. Most individuals sentenced for drug offenses involving heroin (89%) or fentanyl (87%) had a prior criminal history at sentencing and received a median prison term of 46 months. The study results also showed that males made up 80% and females 20% of persons arrested for heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone, and other opioids.
“Beyond the overall increase in fentanyl sentences from FY 2020, looking at regional patterns in FY 2021, sentences imposed for drug offenses involving heroin, fentanyl and other opioids made up a larger share of drug sentences imposed in northeastern states than in other regions,” said BJS Acting Director, Dr. Kevin M. Scott, in a press release published on the BJS website. “Most persons sentenced for heroin, fentanyl, and other opioids (97%) were sentenced for drug trafficking.”