China prom­ises to help U.S. fight fen­tanyl prob­lem with crack­down

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY LAURA KELLY AND TOM HOW­ELL JR.

One week be­fore the midterm elec­tions, seven mem­bers of Congress jet­ted to China with spe­cific march­ing or­ders from the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and Am­bas­sador Terry Branstad: Urge Bei­jing to crack down on fen­tanyl, the No. 1 killer in the U.S. over­dose cri­sis.

Trade was also on the agenda, said Se­nate Health Com­mit­tee Chair­man La­mar Alexan­der, Ten­nessee Repub­li­can, but ev­ery meet­ing with Chi­nese Premier Li Ke­qiang, state po­lice and Polit­buro mem­bers be­gan by ask­ing the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment to make all forms of the syn­thetic opi­oid il­le­gal.

Mr. Branstad and the White House wanted the del­e­ga­tion to act as ta­ble­set­ters for Pres­i­dent Trump, the self-styled deal­maker in chief, who met with Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping on the side­lines of the Group of 20 sum­mit in Ar­gentina.

The del­e­ga­tion’s lob­by­ing cam­paign ap­pears to have worked.

The White House said Mr. Xi agreed at the sum­mit to control all forms of fen­tanyl as both coun­tries try to im­prove re­la­tions and end a thorny trade war. Of­fi­cials said the change, if im­ple­mented swiftly and firmly, will fill a crit­i­cal en­force­ment gap.

“If they get caught, they have the high­est level of pun­ish­ment,” Mr. Trump said while re­turn­ing to the U.S. on Air Force One. “That could be a game changer.”

Roughly 30,000 Amer­i­cans died last year from over­doses traced back to fen­tanyl, which is far more deadly than reg­u­lar heroin. The drug is smug­gled into the U.S. from Mex­ico or even mailed di­rectly through the U.S. Postal Ser­vice — but in­vari­ably is traced back to China.

Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties have made other ef­forts at crack­downs by ban­ning 25 com­pounds, but crafty traf­fick­ers riffed on for­mu­las to duck au­thor­i­ties and con­tinue ship­ping their prod­ucts.

“Chi­nese weren’t yet con­vinced it was that im­por­tant to us,” Mr. Alexan­der told The Wash­ing­ton Times. “They don’t have an opi­oid prob­lem in China.”

Mr. Alexan­der and other law­mak­ers hailed the week­end’s de­vel­op­ments, say­ing the crack­down is a long time com­ing and should work hand in hand with a new law that forces the U.S. Postal Ser­vice to de­mand ad­vanced elec­tronic data on all Chi­nese pack­ages so cus­toms agents can root out il­le­gal drugs.

Sen. Chuck Grass­ley, Iowa Repub­li­can, said the change will save an “un­told num­ber of lives in the United States.”

There is a lot at stake. The U.S. opi­oids prob­lem shifted in the past few years from pain pills and heroin to fen­tanyl.

Drug deal­ers cut their heroin sup­ply with the po­tent drug, de­liv­er­ing a ma­jor high that keeps some cus­tomers com­ing back and killing oth­ers who don’t re­al­ize what they are in­ject­ing into their bod­ies.

Il­licit fen­tanyl was re­spon­si­ble for more than 40 per­cent of the 70,000 drug over­dose deaths in the U.S. last year and 60 per­cent of opi­oid-re­lated deaths.

A re­cent U.S. gov­ern­ment re­port iden­ti­fied China as the top sup­plier to the U.S. of il­le­gal fen­tanyl and crit­i­cized the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment for be­ing “slow and in­ef­fec­tive” at keep­ing up with nu­mer­ous vari­a­tions of the drug that are more po­tent and deadly.

Amer­i­can of­fi­cials said pre­vi­ous Chi­nese ef­forts to sched­ule a set of fen­tanyl com­pounds re­sulted in a sharp and im­me­di­ate de­crease in those chem­i­cals en­ter­ing the U.S.

“China has al­ready listed 25 forms of fen­tanyl as il­le­gal, but then the crooks are cre­ative and they cre­ate a new form of fen­tanyl that is not il­le­gal,” Mr. Alexan­der said. “We per­suaded them to take the hand­cuffs off the Chi­nese po­lice and say ev­ery form of fen­tanyl is il­le­gal.” China is copy­ing the U.S. in a way. The Drug and En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion de­cided this year to take all forms of fen­tanyl with­out ac­cepted med­i­cal use and place them in the Sched­ule I list de­not­ing the high­est risk of abuse.

“China has now done the same thing, so any­one who pos­sesses, im­ports, dis­trib­utes or man­u­fac­tures any il­licit fen­tanyl ana­logue will be sub­ject to crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion in the same man­ner as for fen­tanyl and other con­trolled sub­stances,” DEA spokesman Melvin Patterson said. “This will make it eas­ier for Chi­nese law en­force­ment and pros­e­cu­tors to pros­e­cute traf­fick­ers of all forms of fen­tanyl-re­lated sub­stances.”

In a state­ment, Chi­nese For­eign Minister Wang Yi con­firmed that China “has de­cided to list all the fen­tanyl-like sub­stances as con­trolled sub­stances” and agreed to take “proac­tive steps to strengthen co­op­er­a­tion on law en­force­ment and com­bat­ing il­licit drugs.”

Mr. Alexan­der said the deal is an im­por­tant break­through for two coun­tries try­ing to work through a thorny trade war.

“Peo­ple can dis­agree, but it helps to have a good re­la­tion­ship when you’re work­ing out a prob­lem,” Mr. Alexan­der said.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Roughly 30,000 Amer­i­cans died last year from over­doses traced back to fen­tanyl, which is far more deadly than heroin.

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