Chinese Chemistry Professor Trafficked Synthetic Drugs to US In 'Breaking Bad' Case

By McCarton Ackerman 12/12/16

China is blamed for being a primary source of synthetic drugs like fentanyl and "flakka" in the US.


Breaking Bad is going international. More than three years after the hit show went off the air, a real-life chemistry professor in China has drawn comparisons to Walter White after being arrested for drug trafficking.

Time reported that the scientist, only identified by his surname, Zhang, found time in between his day job as an associate chemistry professor at Wuhan University to sell $600,000 worth of drugs per months to Europe and the U.S. He was found guilty on Tuesday (Nov. 6) of selling 32 kilograms worth of drugs including flakka and methylone, the latter of which is similar to MDMA. 

“It is impossible to say that I do not regret [selling the drugs] as now I am living in a detention house,” he told Beijing TV last year while awaiting trial. 

Zhang was arrested last year after customs officials found some of the drugs in a package he tried to export and later raided his lab. He had been operating out of a rented production plant inside a local industrial park, using Bitcoins and even Western Union to broker transactions. He and two other accomplices had already pleaded guilty to charges of manufacturing, smuggling, transporting and selling illegal drugs, but insisted they were doing it for research purposes rather than consumption. 

China has been blamed for providing much of the synthetic drug supply in the U.S. In July, the DEA reported that China has become the “primary source” of fentanyl in the United States, contributing to the increasing overdose rate that has plagued the country over recent years. 

Last month, another story of life imitating Breaking Bad also made headlines after a terminally ill Australian was sentenced to 19 years in prison after smuggling more than $60 million worth of methamphetamine into the city of Adelaide. Anthony John Scott, 45, had reportedly been suffering from his own meth addiction for 20 years. But despite suffering from a terminal heart condition, it didn’t stop him from using the drug or smuggling pure methamphetamine from Indonesia.

Similar, lesser-scale accounts have also occurred stateside. A junior high school chemistry teacher in Texas was arrested in September 2012 after selling homemade meth to undercover cops in the parking lot of the school where he taught. William Duncan was arrested after the bust and police later found a stash of the drug in his van.

“He’s real upset about what he’s done,” said Linden Police Chief Alton McWaters at the time. “But as I told him, I've got to do my job—and you've got to go to jail.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.