Health Secretary Optimistic That China Will Help US Fight Fentanyl

By Victoria Kim 08/24/17

Price says that both countries are having a hard time keeping up with the ever-changing formulas of synthetic opioids. 

Tom Price
HHS Secretary Tom Price Photo via YouTube

The growing presence of fentanyl in the illicit opioid supply—and the subsequent increase of fatal overdoses—presented a huge challenge to government officials when last summer, the DEA warned the public that counterfeit prescription painkillers may actually contain the more potent fentanyl.

At the time, the agency said that fentanyl disguised as prescription pills “is becoming a trend, not a series of isolated incidents.” Enterprising drug dealers who reportedly make millions from selling pills use presses, dyes, stamps, and binding agents to transform fentanyl to resemble oxycodone or even anti-anxiety pills, as one Utah drug ring had. This phenomenon has resulted in dozens of deaths, and has caused many more overdoses. 

The US has singled out China as the main source of these drugs, which are bought online and shipped to the US. According to data from US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), seizures of fentanyl arriving by mail increased from 0.09 kilograms in 2011 to 37 kilograms in 2016.

But despite the looming threat of what US officials have called the “next wave” of the opioid crisis, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said on Monday (Aug 21) that he’s optimistic about the US and China’s collaboration in “fighting” the presence of fentanyl and the even more potent carfentanil in the US.

“When a particular drug is identified as being a problem, China has been an incredible partner in helping to stop the production of drugs like fentanyl in China,” said the head of the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Price said that the two countries are struggling to keep up with the “rapidly changing ability of individuals to formulate new chemical makeups that are a different drug and that aren’t in the controlled arena.” Synthetic drugs like U-47700 (also known as “Pink”) are created to mimic the effects of controlled substances—but by tweaking the chemical structure of the drug, illegal drug makers are able to skirt drug laws and drug tests.

“My feeling is that it’s just like a race and I will never catch up with the criminals,” said Yu Haibin of China’s narcotics control agency in June. As of July 1st, China implemented a ban on four synthetic opioids—U-47700; MT-45; PMMA; and 4,4’-DMAR. 

Just weeks before Secretary Price’s remarks, Arizona law enforcement seized 30,000 fentanyl pills that were made to look like oxycodone. And in June, the DEA reported seizing “14 million doses”—or 44.14 kilograms—of fentanyl in San Diego County, California.

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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