China Cracks Down on Super-Opioid Carfentanil

By Bryan Le 02/20/17

The DEA welcomes China's plans to crack down on the drug, which is reportedly 10,000 times stronger than morphine.

China Cracks Down on Super-Opioid Carfentanil
The enforcement begins in March.

Carfentanil, a drug so potent it’s been investigated for use in chemical warfare, has been put on China’s list of controlled substances. Starting on March 1, the Chinese government will enforce the ban on carfentanil as well as three similar drugs. The DEA praised the move, saying it will likely stem the tide of opioids coming into the United States which has further fueled our drug epidemic.

“It’s a substantial step in the fight against opioids here in the United States,” Russell Baer, a DEA special agent, tells the Associated Press. “We’re persuaded it will have a definite impact.”

Carfentanil is meant to be used as a tranquilizer for elephants and other similarly large beasts. This potency is what led to the weaponizing of the drug by the Russian military, who employed the drug as one of the active ingredients in a chemical aerosol to subdue Chechen hostage takers in the 2002 Moscow theater hostage crisis. 

In smaller doses, carfentanil is used as a recreational drug that's reportedly 10,000 times as powerful as morphine. Since it appeared on the scene last summer, it's been helping to fuel the United States' opioid crisis alongside its more famous cousin fentanyl.

The new legislation is a small victory in the battle that the U.S. and China have been fighting against the trade of opioid analogues. The Chinese government officially claims there is no solid evidence that Chinese traffickers are the source of opioid analogues in the U.S., but in October the AP found 12 Chinese companies willing to transport carfentanil for a few thousand dollars per kilogram. Despite any official claims, both governments have worked in tandem to put an end to the trade.

“It shows China’s attitude as a responsible big country,” Yu Haibin, the director of China’s Office of the National Narcotics Control Committee, tells the AP. “It will be a strong deterrent.”

The news of the imminent crackdown hasn't stopped sellers yet. As recently as February 16, the AP managed to score five orders of furanyl fentanyl, one of the opioid analogues that will soon be illegal by the new regulations.

“One news I just got is that the carfentanil and furanyl fentanyl etc opioid analogs will be controlled in China on March 1 effective,” one vendor wrote to the AP in an email. “So if you need them pls make it before that day. After that day it will be unavailable.”

Carfentanil is far from the only narcotic coming out of China. The nation’s drug trade also happens to export fentanyl and methamphetamine.

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter