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Illegal drugs expected to be top national security threat in 2024: DHS

Illegal drugs are expected to be one of the biggest threats to national security in 2024 as overdose deaths topped 100,000 in the last year, according to the Department of Homeland Security's annual threat study.

In its report released Thursday, DHS said it expects illegal drugs produced in Mexico and sold in the United States will continue to kill more Americans than any other threat.

"While terrorists pose an enduring threat to the Homeland, drugs kill and harm far more people in the United States annually," the report states.

MORE: To help curb terrorism and violence threats, DHS awards $20M to local communities

In the past year, traffickers have contributed to more lethal mixes of fentanyl -- an already deadly drug -- on the market and driving an increase in overdose deaths in the U.S., DHS said. It is expected that fentanyl will remain the leading cause of narcotics-related deaths in the U.S. in 2024, according to the report.

The report also notes that illegal drugs impact American communities by "supporting violent criminal enterprises, money laundering and corruption that undermines the rule of law."

More than 100,000 people died from drug overdoses in the U.S. during the last year, according to preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 75% of those overdose deaths are from synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.

DHS said it has invested in stopping these dangerous and illegal drugs from entering the country -- seizing more fentanyl, and arresting more people for fentanyl-related crimes in the last two years than in the previous five years combined, DHS said in a statement to ABC News.

PHOTO: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) seal hangs on a fence at the agency's headquarters in this photo taken with a tilt-shift lens in Washington, D.C., Dec. 11, 2014. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images, FILE)
PHOTO: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) seal hangs on a fence at the agency's headquarters in this photo taken with a tilt-shift lens in Washington, D.C., Dec. 11, 2014. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images, FILE)

Terrorism, both foreign and domestic, remains a top threat that DHS said it will monitor -- especially as they target the United States' critical infrastructure.

"During the next year, we assess that the threat of violence from individuals radicalized in the United States will remain high, but largely unchanged, marked by lone offenders or small group attacks that occur with little warning," DHS said in its report. "Foreign terrorist groups like al-Qa'ida and ISIS are seeking to rebuild overseas, and they maintain worldwide networks of supporters that could seek to target the Homeland."

MORE: There have been more mass shootings than days in 2023, database shows

The "Homeland Threat Assessment 2024" gives a sweeping perspective on threats to the United States. A senior DHS official told reporters on a conference call the threat assessment will "maximize" the "clarity and impact" of threats facing the homeland.

In the report, DHS identified the potential for threats along the southern border in 2024.

DHS officials said that as more people come to the border, there is an increased likelihood of seeing individuals "that have some connection to associates that may be on the watch list or those that might be directly related to terrorist activity." The report said that last year there was an increase of about 100 terror watchlist suspects who were encountered along the border.

"[U.S. Customs and Border Protection] is on pace to encounter more migrants at the southern border this year than any other year except 2022, with encounters spiking just prior to the January announcement of expanded parole processes for migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela," the report said.

Also, "increased migration from the eastern hemisphere has exasperated border security challenges," the report said.

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Domestic violent extremists will continue to be a focus for DHS, according to the report.

"These actors will continue to be inspired and motivated by a mix of conspiracy theories; personalized grievances; and enduring racial, ethnic, religious, and anti-government ideologies, often shared online," the report said.

Another ripe target for domestic extremists is the 2024 election, according to the report. Bad actors will likely use technologies and cyber tools to "enhance their capabilities and malign influence campaigns, ultimately to undermine our confidence in a free and fair election," the report stated.

"Cyber actors likely will seek to exploit election-related networks and data, including state, local, and political parties' networks and election officials' personal devices and e-mail accounts."

MORE: 9 Russians charged with cyberattacks targeting US companies

DHS said these cyberattacks, which may come from countries such as Russia, China and Iran, will "continue efforts to target and steal sensitive US information, research, and technology," in addition to attempting to potentially meddle in the 2024 election, according to the report.

Ransomware and cyberattacks are also a focus of DHS' threat landscape.

"Between January 2020 and December 2022, the number of known ransomware attacks in the United States increased by 47 percent," the report said. "Ransomware attackers extorted at least $449.1 million globally during the first half of 2023 and are expected to have their second most profitable year."

Illegal drugs expected to be top national security threat in 2024: DHS originally appeared on abcnews.go.com