According to a recent report from the New York Times, China banned all fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances, slowing the supply of the deadly drug to the U.S.1 The ban went into effect on May 1, 2019. There is hope that this decision will greatly reduce the number of fentanyl-related overdose deaths in America.
What is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is one of the most common drugs involved in U.S. overdoses. It contributed to 28,466 of 72,000 drug overdose deaths in 2017.2,3 From 2016 to 2017, synthetic opioid-involved overdose death rates increased 45.2%.4 Although fentanyl is a pharmaceutical drug used to treat severe pain, it may also be manufactured and distributed illegally.
Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine, making any consumption extremely dangerous.5 Drug users are at an even greater risk because fentanyl manufacturers and dealers use it to cut drugs like heroin, cocaine, and counterfeit prescription pills. These drugs are then sold online or distributed by dealers. Drug abusers don’t have any idea they’re cut with fentanyl, let alone how much.
The drastic increase in drug overdose deaths, led primarily by fentanyl, has caused more deaths than HIV, car crashes, or gun violence at their peak.3
Why China’s Fentanyl Ban Matters
Illegal fentanyl is primarily produced in China and smuggled into the U.S. through Mexico.6 It may also be shipped directly from China to online buyers in small quantities via commercial couriers like FedEx and UPS. Many shipments contain such small amounts of fentanyl that it is nearly impossible to detect.
Prior to this announcement, China had already classified more than two dozen types of fentanyl as controlled substances. This gave the Chinese government the ability to strictly regulate and control their production and distribution. However, this was done on a case-by-case basis, which was a time-consuming process. Meanwhile, it also allowed illegal fentanyl manufacturers to get around the law by creating different variations of the drug.
Fentanyl is a major threat to the health and well-being of Americans. However, China’s decision to ban all fentanyl-related substances is a significant step because it effectively decreases illegal manufacturers’ abilities to skirt the law, reducing the overall harm fentanyl can cause.
The Battle Against Fentanyl Isn’t Over Just Yet
While the fentanyl ban from China is progress, the battle against fentanyl isn’t over yet. Unfortunately, China’s ban doesn’t cover all of the chemicals used to make fentanyl and its variants. Therefore, buyers in Mexico could still purchase them, manufacture the fentanyl, and smuggle it into the U.S.
Although China has banned some of the chemicals manufacturers need to create this deadly drug, officials say it would be nearly impossible to ban them all.
Completely stopping the illegal flow of fentanyl into the U.S. is highly unlikely and much more complicated than reducing the trafficking of drugs like heroin or cocaine. (It is very difficult to detect in such small amounts.) However, China’s decision to ban all fentanyl-related substances is a step in the right direction.