Chinese Companies Hocking Deadly Carfentanil Online, AP Investigation Shows

By Keri Blakinger 10/13/16

One saleswoman boasted that carfentanil is a "hot sales product."

Chinese Companies Hocking Deadly Carfentanil Online, AP Investigation Shows
Photo: via YouTube

In the midst of America’s opioid crisis, Chinese companies are offering to export the powerful and deadly chemical carfentanil, an Associated Press investigation found.

Drug dealers have relied on substances like carfentanil, and the weaker opioid fentanyl, as a cheap additive to black market heroin in order to bolster profit margins. In the process, they’ve made an already dangerous product more dangerous—as evidenced by the spate of overdoses in Ohio this past summer, a series of tragedies officials linked to the potent animal tranquilizer. 

Although China’s Ministry of Public Security declined to comment on AP’s findings, carfentanil is not actually illegal in China. The substance is so deadly that it is banned from battlefield use under the international Chemical Weapons Convention. Some experts are worried terrorists could use the drug as a chemical weapon. 

"Countries that we are concerned about were interested in using it for offensive purposes," said Andrew Weber, a former Defense Department chemical weapons expert. "We are also concerned that groups like ISIS could order it commercially."

Yet without even skirting their nation’s law, Chinese drug makers can fulfill online orders and ship the drugs overseas by the kilogram. But even drug vendors realize it’s a dangerous substance.

"The government should impose very serious limits, but in reality in China it's so difficult to control because if I produce one or two kilograms, how will anyone know?" Xu Liqun of Hangzhou Reward Technology told AP at a chemicals industry conference. "They cannot control you, so many products, so many labs."

Last year, the nation of over 1.3 billion added 116 synthetic drugs to its list of controlled substances—including acetylfentanyl, a weaker drug related to carfentanil. Even so, AP found that some companies were willing to export acetylfentanyl, fentanyl or even alpha-PVP (more commonly known as flakka). All three are controlled in China.

One company even boasted about the popularity of acetylfentanyl. "Our customer feedback that the effect is also very good," Wonder Synthesis wrote in an email to AP. But greater scrutiny is placed on China for being a major source of these potent synthetic opioids, some vendors are ramping up their sales pitches. "If you need any chems, just hurry to buy,” Wonder Synthesis wrote. 

Jilin Tely Import and Export Co. offered similar enthusiasm about the even more dangerous carfentanil. “It’s one of our hot sales product,” a saleswoman bragged.

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.