Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

BEI­JING: US as­ser­tions that China is the top source of the syn­thetic opi­oids that have killed thou­sands of drug users in the US and Canada are un­sub­stan­ti­ated, Chi­nese of­fi­cials told the As­so­ci­ated Press.

Both the US Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion and the White House Of­fice of Na­tional Drug Con­trol Pol­icy point to China as North Amer­ica’s main source of fen­tanyl, re­lated drugs and the chem­i­cals used to make them. Such state­ments “lack the sup­port of suf­fi­cient num­bers of ac­tual, con­firmed cases,” China’s Na­tional Nar­cotics Con­trol Com­mis­sion told DEA’s Bei­jing field of­fice in a fax dated Fri­day.

In its let­ter to the DEA, which the com­mis­sion also sent to AP, Chi­nese of­fi­cials urged the US to pro­vide more ev­i­dence about China’s role as a source coun­try. It’s a point the state-run China Daily news­pa­per drove home pub­licly in an ar­ti­cle this month stat­ing that made-in-China car­fen­tanil was not the cause of over­dose deaths in the US DEA of­fi­cials said their case­work and in­ves­ti­ga­tions con­sis­tently lead back to China. DEA data also shows that when China reg­u­lates syn­thetic drugs, US seizures plunge.

“China is not the only source of the prob­lem, but they are the dom­i­nant source for fen­tanyls along with pre­cur­sor chem­i­cals and pill presses that are be­ing ex­ported from China to the US, Canada and Mex­ico,” said Russell Baer, a DEA spe­cial agent in Wash­ing­ton.

Bei­jing is con­cerned enough about in­ter­na­tional per­cep­tions of China’s role in the opi­oid trade that af­ter AP pub­lished in­ves­ti­ga­tions high­light­ing the easy avail­abil­ity of fen­tanyls on­line from Chi­nese sup­pli­ers, the nar­cotics com­mis­sion made a rare in­vi­ta­tion to a team of AP jour­nal­ists to dis­cuss the is­sue at the pow­er­ful Min­istry of Public Se­cu­rity, a leafy com­plex just off Tianan­men Square at the his­toric and po­lit­i­cal heart of Bei­jing. They also pro­vided re­sponses, in writ­ing, to AP’s ques­tions.

US-China co­op­er­a­tion is es­sen­tial for mount­ing an ef­fec­tive global re­sponse to an epi­demic of opi­oid abuse that has killed more than 300,000 Amer­i­cans since 2000. The pres­ence of fen­tanyl, a pre­scrip­tion painkiller up to 50 times stronger than heroin, and re­lated com­pounds in the US drug sup­ply be­gan to rise in 2013, af­ter deal­ers learned they could mul­ti­ply prof­its by cut­ting the po­tent chem­i­cals into heroin, co­caine and coun­ter­feit pre­scrip­tion pills.

Even as the US Congress con­sid­ers leg­is­la­tion that would pun­ish opi­oid source coun­tries, no gov­ern­ment agency has pro­duced com­pre­hen­sive data on seizures of fen­tanyl-re­lated sub­stances by coun­try of ori­gin. The na­tional data­base on drug seizures over­seen by DEA does not re­quire re­port­ing by source coun­try and may not ac­cu­rately re­flect seizures of all fen­tanyl­re­lated com­pounds. Baer said it didn’t even have a “fen­tanyl” cat­e­gory un­til around two years ago.

It also takes time for foren­sic chemists to iden­tify drugs seized from the field, which means fen­tanyl-re­lated sam­ples may get in­cor­rectly logged as other drugs. “The field agent may not, and I think it’s fair to say usu­ally does not, re­vise or amend the ini­tial seizure,” Baer said. He added that DEA is try­ing to im­prove its data-col­lec­tion meth­ods.

The White House Of­fice of Na­tional Drug Con­trol Pol­icy de­clined to com­ment or to pro­vide data that would back up the US as­ser­tions. US Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion said it had data on fen­tanyl seizures by coun­try of ori­gin only for 2015: Nearly two-thirds of the 61 kilo­grams (134 pounds) of fen­tanyl seized last year came from Mex­ico. The rest, 35 per­cent, came from China.

DEA of­fi­cials say Mex­i­can car­tels are key bulk sup­pli­ers of fen­tanyl to the US, but por­tray Mex­ico pri­mar­ily as a trans­ship­ment point. US au­thor­i­ties have tracked ship­ments of fen­tanyl pre­cur­sors from China to Mex­ico and the US, but many ap­pear le­git­i­mate and are di­verted to the black mar­ket upon ar­rival, Baer said. Mex­i­can of­fi­cials, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause they were not au­tho­rized to be quoted, said fen­tanyl and its pre­cur­sors were com­ing from China. Only two labs try­ing to pro­duce fen­tanyl from scratch have been lo­cated in Mex­ico in re­cent years, with oth­ers ap­par­ently tak­ing sim­pler steps to turn pre­cur­sors into fen­tanyl, the of­fi­cials said.

Mex­i­can au­thor­i­ties did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to requests for data on fen­tanyl and fen­tanyl pre­cur­sor seizures by coun­try of ori­gin. Still, there is plenty of anec­do­tal ev­i­dence in­di­cat­ing that China plays an im­por­tant role in the fen­tanyls trade and, de­spite dis­agree­ments about data, Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties have been proac­tive in try­ing to stop their man­u­fac­ture and ex­port.

It is easy to find Chi­nese com­pa­nies on­line of­fer­ing to ex­port syn­thetic opi­oids, the AP found in in­ves­ti­ga­tions pub­lished in Oc­to­ber and Novem­ber . In re­sponse to that re­port­ing, China’s nar­cotics com­mis­sion said it was scru­ti­niz­ing 12 opi­oid ven­dors the AP iden­ti­fied , along with other com­pa­nies that ad­ver­tise fen­tanyl analogs. — AP


This June 2016 file photo pro­vided by the Royal Cana­dian Mounted Po­lice shows printer ink bot­tles con­tain­ing car­fen­tanil im­ported from China, in Van­cou­ver, Canada. US as­ser­tions that China is the top source of the syn­thetic opi­oids that have killed thou­sands of drug users in the US and Canada are un­sub­stan­ti­ated, Chi­nese of­fi­cials told the As­so­ci­ated Press.

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