China Is 'Primary Source' Of Fentanyl, Says DEA

By Victoria Kim 07/01/16

China's light regulation on synthetic opiates has allowed everyone from Mexican cartels to small-time American dealers to access and easily distribute the potent opiate.

China Is 'Primary Source' Of Fentanyl, Says DEA

China is now the “primary source” of fentanyl, according to a DEA intelligence briefing summarized by the Wall Street Journal

Fentanyl, which authorities say is up to 50 times as potent as heroin, has turned up across the United States in batches of heroin and counterfeit pills made to resemble prescription opiate medication like Norco and even Xanax, a benzodiazepine, killing a growing number of unsuspecting users.

China and its booming chemical industry are at the heart of the fentanyl crisis, according to the DEA report. Fentanyl, its analogs (copies), and its building blocks face little regulation in the country, allowing everyone from cartels in Mexico to small-time dealers in the U.S. and Canada to access them online with relative ease. However, authorities are attempting to crack down harder on the vast drug distribution network.

Apparently fentanyl isn’t too popular among Chinese addicts, according to WSJ. It’s more of a problem in the West. At a spring meeting on narcotics in the United Nations in New York, Chinese narcotics control official Liu Yuejin said countries like the U.S. and Canada should do more to reduce demand, saying they are “not justified in requiring only drug-producing countries to counter the manufacture of drugs,” and that “they must also address the consumption market.”

According to the 2016 United Nations World Drug Report, Estonia is another country where fentanyl has exacerbated the rate of fatal drug overdose, resulting in a drug overdose death rate of 127 per million people in 2013. In Canada, there were at least 655 fentanyl-related deaths over a seven-year period (2009-2014) and in the U.S., there were more than 700 fentanyl-related deaths in a one-year span (2013-2014), according to the report.

Fentanyl is just one facet of the burgeoning synthetic drug market, referred to as new psychoactive substances (NPS) by the UN. According to the World Drug Report, the “range of (NPS) drugs available on the market has probably never been wider.”

The report said that while in past years (2012-2014) the majority of synthetic drugs were some variety of a synthetic cannabinoid, data from 2015 so far show a rise in synthetic cathinones (that mimic the effects of cocaine or methamphetamine) and synthetic opiates (like fentanyl).  

Authorities around the world are struggling to keep up with the new varieties of synthetic opiates, cannabinoids, and cathinones being churned out by clandestine chemical manufacturers that end up on the black market. “Many newly reported NPS are actually derivatives or previously reported substances whose molecular structure has been slightly modified,” the report says. By continuously tweaking the chemical composition of the drugs, manufacturers and traffickers are able to evade detection from law enforcement.

“When you control one derivative of fentanyl, another derivative comes out, which is not on the control list,” Tun Nay Soe, a coordinator at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), told Al Jazeera. “Criminals are always one step ahead of law enforcement people.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr