Chemical weapons for sale: China’s unregulated narcotic
It’s one of the strongest opioids in circulation, so deadly an amount smaller than a poppy seed can kill a person. Until July, when reports of carfentanil overdoses began to surface in the US, the substance was best known for knocking out moose and elephants - or as a chemical weapon. Despite the dangers, Chinese vendors offer to sell carfentanil openly online, for worldwide export, no questions asked, an Associated Press investigation has found. The AP identified 12 Chinese businesses that said they would export carfentanil to the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Belgium and Australia for as little as $2,750 a kilogram.
Carfentanil burst into view this summer as the latest scourge in an epidemic of opioid abuse that has killed tens of thousands in the US alone. In China, the top global source of synthetic drugs, carfentanil is not a controlled substance. The US government is pressing China to blacklist it, but Beijing has yet to act. “We can supply carfentanil ... for sure,” a saleswoman from Jilin Tely Import and Export Co. wrote in broken English in a September email. “And it’s one of our hot sales product.” The AP did not actually order any drugs, or test whether the products on offer were genuine.
China’s Ministry of Public Security declined multiple requests for comment. For decades before being discovered by drug dealers, carfentanil and substances like it were researched as chemical weapons by the US, UK, Russia, Israel, China, the Czech Republic and India, according to publicly available documents. They are banned from the battlefield under the Chemical Weapons Convention. “It’s a weapon,” said Andrew Weber, assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs from 2009 to 2014. “Companies shouldn’t be just sending it to anybody.” Carfentanil is 100 times more powerful than fentanyl, a related drug that is itself up to 50 times stronger than heroin. Forms of fentanyl are suspected in an unsuccessful 1997 attempt by Mossad agents to kill a Hamas leader in Jordan, and were used to lethal effect by Russian forces against Chechen separatists who took hundreds of hostages at a Moscow theater in 2002. — AP