US blames China for drug trafficking to disguise its own failure: experts

By Yin Yeping Source: Global Times Published: 2020/7/22 20:53:45

File photo: A bottle of fentanyl Photo: IC

The Chinese government has been exercising strict management in the supply chain of all fentanyl-related analogs, which has never been legally exported to the US and its illegal trafficking, which is very limited, is under a strict crackdown by Chinese authorities, industry analysts said.

This came after a recent statement from the US government indicating China is one of the major sources of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans. The statement alleges fentanyl is being trafficked from China to the US. 

A similar statement was made by the US in August last year and subsequently refuted by then spokesperson of China's Foreign Ministry Geng Shuang, who said the US' accusation that China was the main source of fentanyl substances in the country lacked evidence and was entirely inconsistent with the facts. 

In intelligence report released in January, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said that "currently, China remains the primary source of fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances trafficked through

international mail and express consignment operations environment, as well as the main source for all fentanyl-related substances trafficked into the United States."

The US has been continuously pointing the blame at China for being a major source of drug-trafficking, though China has been doing far better than the US in relevant prevention and control, experts said.

Recent statistics show that nearly 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses last year, according to preliminary data by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up 5 percent from 2018, the New York Times reported on July 15.

In China, overdoses of fentanyl or other addictive drugs are considered very rare, given that the Chinese government added fentanyl-related substances to a supplementary list of controlled narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances with non-medical usages on May 1, 2019, analysts said.

The US' accusation that China-sourced fentanyl has claimed hundreds of thousands of American lives is groundless, as China has the strictest fentanyl regulations in place, which cannot be said for many other countries, including the US, Shi Jie, secretary-general of the China expert committee on the prevention and control of synthetic drug abuse, told the Global Times.

"As the world's largest producer and consumer of fentanyl, the US is failing to control its use and distribution of the substance, not China," Shi said.

Fentanyl-like substances for medical use legally produced by Chinese factories have never flowed into the US. China's law-enforcement agencies did handle cases involving illegal processing of fentanyl products for US markets. With cross-border collusion, these substances were disguised or hidden in international packages mailed to the US, Geng said last August.  

Toughest restrictions

Fentanyl was first successfully synthesized in 1960 by Belgian chemist Paul Janssen. The opioid analgesic is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. 

Given its high toxicity, fentanyl sources in China are fixed and tightly controlled, from cultivation to synthesis to distribution. China does not allow the average consumer to obtain sufficient quantities of the drug for an addiction to develop, experts said.

Wang Xuegong, deputy director of the China Pharmaceutical Enterprises Association, told the Global Times on Tuesday that China enforces strict controls over the use and quantity of fentanyl produced, and that there are currently only three companies, all state-owned, that have permission to produce it. 

The entire fentanyl industrial chain, from production to consumption, is well monitored and regulated, and SinoPharm is responsible for the entire distribution chain, said Wang.

"Doctors who can approve the medical use of fentanyl have to be qualified and experienced and must meet certain criteria, and patients in China can only receive three days' worth of the drug," said Wang.

These kinds of addictive drugs are so strictly controlled in China that the country does not export them, analysts said.

An important milestone in the management of fentanyl came in December 2018, when the leaders of China and the US agreed to take proactive steps to strengthen cooperation on law enforcement and combating illegal drugs, including the synthetic drug fentanyl, the Xinhua News Agency reported on December 2, 2018.

Measures adopted by China have been praised by the international community, including the US, according to the report.

Months after the meeting, China added all fentanyl-like substances to its list of controlled substances. The move has been dubbed by many as the strictest related measure in the world.


US drug control failure

US law enforcement departments reported that from October 2018 to March 2019, 536 kilograms of fentanyl substances had been seized, but only 5 kilograms came from China, according to a report sent to the Global Times by China's National Narcotics Control Commission (NNCC).

US authorities made 229 fentanyl busts during that period, and only 17 involved Chinese smugglers, per the report. 

"By the US' own count, a low quantity of fentanyl from China appeared in the US. To combat illegal exports of fentanyl, China has also set up special laboratories to detect narcotics in packages intercepted by customs," Hua Zhendong, technical director of the NNCC national narcotics laboratory, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

The NNCC is home to one of the major national laboratories that tests drugs seized by the Chinese customs, and it has received few recent cases related to fentanyl, especially since the regulation took effect in May 2019, according to Hua. 

Even Jim Carroll, director of the US Office of National Drug Control Policy but better known as the White House drug czar, admitted in a media interview in December 2019 that there had been a dramatic decline in seizures of fentanyl coming directly from China to the US, the USA Today reported.

"That being said, we're still seeing more or less the same volume of fentanyl coming into the US, but it's no longer coming directly from China. It is coming in from new places," Carroll said.

India is emerging as a source for finished fentanyl powder and fentanyl precursor chemicals, according to the report by the US DEA in January.

The US has seen a continuous jump in drug overdoses involving fentanyl.

Drug deaths in the US fell in 2018 for the first time in 25 years then rose to a record high in 2019 and are now continuously rising, a resurgence that is being complicated and perhaps worsened by the coronavirus pandemic, the New York Times reported on July 15.

The quantity of painkillers used in the US is so high that some products can become addictive when abused, which is something the US should reflect on, Wang said.

Newspaper headline: Passing buck over fentanyl


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