Opioid Commission's Chris Christie: Fentanyl Is A 'Chinese Problem'

By Victoria Kim 12/01/17

At a recent hearing, the outgoing NJ governor accused China of being the main source of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.

Chris Christie

Fentanyl isn’t going away any time soon. According to the CDC, deaths from fentanyl and other synthetic opioids increased by 73% from 2014 to 2015. 

Fentanyl is normally prescribed to treat pain and is said to be up to 100 times as strong as morphine. But outside of the doctor’s office, fentanyl is contributing to the rising death toll of the opioid crisis. 

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie pointed a finger at China at a Tuesday (Nov 28) hearing, accusing the world power of being a main source of fentanyl and similar substances. “You are sending this into our country to kill our people,” said Christie during a hearing of the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee.

“The first use can lead to death. It is so lethal that law enforcement officers who come to crime scenes have to be careful,” said the outgoing governor.

Christie called for ramping up drug enforcement and funding aimed at America’s synthetic opioid problem—which he called a “Chinese problem”—echoing recommendations he made as the head of the White House opioid commission. (It was announced Wednesday that White House counselor Kellyanne Conway will lead the efforts to implement the new initiatives.)

“We don’t have the level of enforcement needed,” said Christie, adding that he was “not impressed” with the amount of funding that the federal government has dedicated to the opioid crisis. “In New Jersey, we are spending $500 million.” 

In his home state, fentanyl caused nearly 900 deaths in 2016, according to NJ.com

Christie also stressed the importance of cracking down on synthetic opioids coming through the mail. 

But even though China has cooperated with anti-drug efforts and federal agents have been keeping a closer eye on international mail, synthetic opioids are still accessible online. According to the Washington Examiner, federal authorities were able to purchase fentanyl off the dark web this past May. They reportedly traced the drugs to Chinese sellers.

China has banned a number of synthetic opioids to appease the U.S., but officials are dubious about whether this will have a meaningful effect. To skirt the law, illegal drug makers reportedly tweak the chemical composition of banned drugs to create new ones that are not on the government’s radar. 

“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 August, the FDA stepped up efforts to stop illegal opioids from entering the U.S. through the mail, deploying about three dozen employees to international mail facilities, according to the Washington Post.

In October, the Department of Justice announced the indictments of two Chinese nationals charged with “manufacturing tons of fentanyl and other powerful narcotics” sent to the United States.

The men kept a close eye on U.S. anti-drug efforts to keep their operation afloat. The Washington Post reported that one of the men “would monitor drug legislation and law enforcement actions in the U.S., changing the chemical structure of his drugs to avoid prosecution.”

The men remain free and will likely avoid facing charges in the U.S., in the absence of an extradition treaty between the two countries, according to the Seattle Times.

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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