China Tightens Control Over Turnover of Fentanyl and Its Derivatives
AUSTIN, TEXAS – April 1, 2019
Chinese authorities have included fentanyl and its derivatives in the list of non-medicinal substances to be controlled.
The move was announced ahead of the latest round of talks aimed at ending the trade war between the the US and China, and fulfils a promise Xi Jinping made to Donald Trump when they last met in Argentina in early December.
For several decades, “heroin’s synthetic brother” - fentanyl was used as a painkiller for surgical operations and played a minor role in the drug crisis. In 2014, this euphoric-sensitizing drug became a mainstream product on the black market and led to an explosive increase in mortality in a number of cities.
The opioid analgesic fentanyl was synthesized by the Belgian scientist Paul Jansen in 1960 and entered clinical practice as a general anesthetic. Fentanyl and other substances of its series, for example, carfentanil, remifentanil and sulfentanil, are included in the second list of the list of drugs to be controlled. Their turnover is permitted only for medical, scientific, expert and veterinary purposes.
Major manufacturers are located in China, according to the US Department of Justice's Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). In Chinese port cities such as Shanghai, fentanyl is produced by thousands of legally operating chemical laboratories, with nothing preventing it from being shipped abroad. Chinese regulators look the other way.
Fentanyl enters US cities in small batches in packages and letters. Since a lethal dose is as small as a dozen grains of sugar, even several servings hidden in packages are extremely difficult to detect. Large batches of fentanyl flow into the US through Mexico through the same channels as all traditional banned substances.
The cost of production of 1 kg of fentanyl in China is about $4000, and in the US the prices for this drug are about the same as for heroin, which is ten times weaker. In Chicago, 100 g can be purchased on the black market for $9,000. In turn, drug addicts usually buy 1 g of fentanyl from street dealers for $250-300 or 0.1 g for $60.
In August 2018, trump accused China of being behind the opioid crisis in the US. He called on the Senate to "stop this poison that kills children and destroys the country."
It is outrageous that Poisonous Synthetic Heroin Fentanyl comes pouring into the U.S. Postal System from China. We can, and must, END THIS NOW! The Senate should pass the STOP ACT – and firmly STOP this poison from killing our children and destroying our country. No more delay!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 20, 2018
China denies these accusations.
According to SCMP, on Monday China announced tightened curbs on the painkiller fentanyl. Under the new curbs, all fentanyl-related substances will be added to a supplementary list of controlled narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances with non-medical use starting from May 1.
A joint press conference announcing the measures made by the Ministry of Public Security, the National Health Commission and the National Medical Products Administration listed the chemical structure of fentanyl for the first time.
In March 2017, China banned the manufacturing and sale of four types of fentanyl, later expanding this to 25 types and two precursors – a move that went further than the UN requirement of 21 types.
However, this did not prevent US authorities from blaming Chinese imports for fuelling the opioid crisis that has claimed thousands of lives. The American side believes that Chinese manufacturers have learned to get round these curbs by tweaking the chemical structure of their product.
Beijing, in turn, argues that the amount of fentanyl entering the US from China is “extremely limited” and blames drug abuse on the US themselves and their culture. However, Chinese authorities nevertheless decided to tighten control over the drug in their homeland in order to ensure a favorable atmosphere during the next round of negotiations with the United States.
“The US is concerned about all variants [of fentanyl], and it’s all been resolved” said Liu Yuejin, deputy director of China’s National Narcotics Control Commission.
At the same time, Liu dodged questions about whether the move was a concession by China to help bring the trade war to an end.
Liu also said: “China has a strict controls on fentanyl, there has never been a problem from fentanyl produced legally in China … the illegal cases we cracked in joint operations with US authorities were all results of the lawbreakers ganging up with overseas crime groups.”
He also said it was “groundless” to accuse China of being behind the US opioid crisis, saying “the cases we found cover limited quantities, it cannot be the major supplier for the US.”
“We believe the overdose problem in the United States is mainly caused by domestic reasons,” he continued, citing a long history of drug abuse, lack of regulation and public education.