"60 Minutes" Tracks Down Fentanyl "Kingpin" In China

By Lindsey Weedston 09/19/19

The show's producers tracked down and confronted one of the primary sources offering fentanyl online to US residents.

fentanyl shipment from China
Photo via Flickr/US Customs and Border Protections

60 Minutes recently did a segment on the fentanyl crisis, tracking down a man identified as something of a “kingpin” for the trafficking of this incredibly potent drug from China. Shipments of fentanyl from China via the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) are considered by federal authorities to be a massive source of the influx of the drug that has been causing mass overdose cases across the country.

Shopping For Fentanyl Online

After two overdose deaths in a week in Akron, Ohio, assistant U.S. Attorney Matt Cronin decided to investigate how the synthetic opioid, which can be 50 times more potent than heroin, was making its way so easily into American hands. He found that ordering fentanyl online was shockingly simple.

“We just said, ‘Hey,’ according to the source's instructions, ‘we're interested in buying fentanyl,’” said Cronin. “And the result was, to say the least, surprising. We have dozens, probably over 50 different drug trafficking networks reaching out to us saying, ‘We have fentanyl. We have even more powerful fentanyl analogs. Whatever you want, we'll get it for you for cheap. We'll get it for you in bulk.’”

All of the replies came from China.

According to similar investigations by Ohio Senator Rob Portman and his staff, these sources guaranteed shipments that went through the USPS due to delays in implementing shipping procedures designed to stop fentanyl trafficking.

“That's because after 9/11, all private carriers like FedEx were required to give U.S. Customs advance descriptions and tracking of foreign packages,” 60 Minutes reports. “The Postal Service was allowed to delay because of the cost.”

Although the USPS has tried to implement these requirements, they say that China is not cooperating.

Locating The Source

Somehow, 60 Minutes producer Bob Anderson tracked down a man named Guanghua Zheng, who was identified as one of the primary sources offering fentanyl online to U.S. residents, and confronted him outside of a Shanghai grocery store. Zheng insisted that he no longer does this before the woman who was with him intervened.

The U.S. government has “sealed” off Zheng’s offshore bank accounts, shut down 40 of his websites selling illicit substances like fentanyl in 20 languages, and officially designated him and his sons as “foreign drug kingpins.” China has promised to shut down the synthetic opioid trafficking networks operating within its borders, but it’s unclear whether they are following through.

During the 60 Minutes segment, Justin Herdman, U.S. Attorney in Cleveland, repeated a claim that fentanyl can cause intoxication, overdose, and even death through mere skin contact. However, in 2018, harm reduction activist Chad Sabora demonstrated this to be a myth by holding fentanyl-laced powder in his hand for several minutes without effect.

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Lindsey Weedston is a Seattle area writer focused on mental health and addiction, politics, human rights, and various social issues. Her work has appeared in The Establishment, Ravishly, ThinkProgress, Little Things, Yes! Magazine, and others. You can find her daily writings at NotSorryFeminism.com. Twitter: https://twitter.com/LindseyWeedston