A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

U.S. Customs seizes largest-ever shipment of synthetic drugs at Port of Cincinnati, Erlanger


By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers seized an air shipment at a local cargo examination station in Erlanger, which has turned out to be the largest synthetic drug seizure in the history of the Port of Cincinnati, as well as other items.


This shipment came from China and was headed to a single importer in Aurora, Colorado. When officers examined the shipment, they found more than 160 smaller packages addressed to individuals and businesses across the nation.

U.S. Customs seized largest synthetic drug shipment in history at Erlanger. (U.S. Customs photo)

These smaller shipments contained various items including regulated medications, agricultural and food products, counterfeit handbags and shoes and over a quarter of a ton of synthetic drugs and controlled substances.


Around 435 pounds were Drug Enforcement Administration Schedule I and Schedule II controlled substances, and the rest were Schedule III and IV substances and various prohibited or regulated products such as prescription-only medications like sedatives, steroids, anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications and medications intended for prevention or treatment of COVID-19.  At least 192 pounds of the seized substances are known precursors for fentanyl synthesis.

It also included 156 pounds of synthetic cannabinoids and 16 pounds of synthetic cathinones with a combined street value of over $2 million.

Synthetic cannabinoids have various street names such as Spice and K2. Synthetic cathinones are better known as bath salts.


CBP agriculture specialists also confiscated more than 162 pounds of prohibited products from this shipment, including unlabeled veterinary medications, meat products and fruit peels, all which are vectors for plant and animal diseases. None of these materials were listed on any manifest included with the shipment.


They also discovered counterfeit products from multiple large brand name manufacturers such as Apple, Air Jordan, Louis Vuitton, Samsung, Tory Burch, Yeezy and fake COVID-19 test kits. The total manufacturer’s suggested retail price would have been $1,256,787 had the products been genuine.


“This is the largest synthetic seizure in the history of our port,” said Cincinnati Port Director Richard Gillespie. “I’m extremely proud of our officers who worked to make sure these dangerous drugs and illicit items were removed from the hands of citizens and the American commerce.”

CBP conducts operations at ports of entry throughout the United States and regularly screens arriving international passengers and cargo for narcotics, weapons and other restricted or prohibited products.


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