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The agreement between China and the US on fentanyl revives the halted joint effort to combat the lethal drug.
Science & Health

The agreement between China and the US on fentanyl revives the halted joint effort to combat the lethal drug.

Earlier this week, President Joe Biden of the United States and President Xi Jinping of China reached an agreement for Beijing to take action against Chinese companies manufacturing precursor chemicals used in fentanyl production. Biden emphasized that this agreement will have a positive impact on saving lives.

As part of the agreement, the Biden administration has promised to remove sanctions on the Physical Evidence Identification Center of China’s Ministry of Public Security and the National Drug Laboratory. These sanctions were imposed by the U.S. Department of Commerce in May 2020 over allegations that the lab was involved in human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in Xinjiang.

The Chinese Embassy in the United States stated that the majority of fentanyl precursors used in the U.S. originate from China. They also argued that U.S. export controls have significantly impacted China’s ability to inspect and test fentanyl-related substances and have hindered their willingness to assist in drug control efforts.

Despite previous efforts to decrease the availability of fentanyl through collaboration, enthusiasm waned due to increasing tensions between China and the U.S. On August 5th, 2022, China formally declared the suspension of their anti-drug cooperation with the U.S. following a visit to Taiwan by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a territory that China claims as their own.

This provides context for the agreement between Biden and Xi.

What is fentanyl?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that fentanyl is significantly more powerful than heroin and morphine, with a potency 50 times and 100 times greater, respectively. It is an FDA-approved medication in the U.S. prescribed for managing intense pain.

The CDC states that illegally produced fentanyl is frequently mixed with other substances due to its high potency, resulting in cheaper, stronger, more addictive, and more hazardous drugs.

The CDC reports that on the black market, Fentanyl is frequently combined with heroin and/or cocaine in order to heighten the user’s feeling of euphoria.

What is the reason for the United States’ concern about the fentanyl problem?

According to data from the U.S. Department of Justice, Fentanyl is currently the main cause of death among Americans between the ages of 18 and 49.

How is China connected to the fentanyl issue in the United States?

A recent report from the Congressional Research Service revealed that, before 2019, China was the main provider of illegal fentanyl, fentanyl-related materials, and manufacturing equipment to the United States. The report stated that Chinese traffickers used international mail and express shipping to distribute fentanyl and related substances to the U.S.

In 2018, during the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Chinese President Xi pledged to increase control over fentanyl and similar drugs in a meeting with then-U.S. President Donald Trump. This was viewed as an effort by China to ease tensions in trade discussions.

On May 1, 2019, China implemented new legislation to place all substances related to fentanyl under national regulation.

During a testimony in July 2022, a high-ranking adviser from the Office of National Drug Control Policy reported that due to their efforts, the transportation of fentanyl and related substances from China to the United States has significantly decreased.

What is China’s role?

According to data from the DEA, following China’s regulation of fentanyl-related substances, Mexican transnational criminal organizations have taken over as the primary producers and distributors of illegal fentanyl in the United States.

According to Anne Milgram, DEA administrator, cartels are purchasing precursor chemicals in China and transporting them to Mexico. These chemicals are then used to produce large quantities of fentanyl, which is then pressed into counterfeit prescription pills. The drugs are then transported into the United States through various methods, such as cars and trucks, for distribution. This information was shared during a Senate hearing in February.

What is the reason for the US’s accusation of China’s lack of cooperation?

Some chemicals that are used to make fentanyl are not regulated globally and can be legally produced and exported from China. The Chinese government claims that it cannot limit the export of these precursors since they are not prohibited.

The United States has continuously urged China to implement a “know-your-customer” method, which involves identifying and confirming the identities of customers, in order to prevent the sale of chemicals to potential drug traffickers and to inform authorities about these buyers.

In a September 2022 interview with Newsweek, Qin Gang, who was then the Chinese ambassador to the U.S., stated that this approach exceeds the responsibilities outlined in the United Nations Convention on Drug Control for countries.