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DEA Calls China's Fentanyl Ban 'A Potential Game-Changer'
After six months of serious negotiations, China has agreed to a fentanyl ban of the production and sale of four variations of the synthetic opioid fentanyl. The killer drug has been pouring into the U.S. illegally from China for years and has been implicated directly in countless overdose deaths.
The ban of four variations of the deadly drug began on March 1, 2017. It’s being called “a potential game changer” by Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials.
The DEA deserves enormous credit because the tricky negotiations included a trip to China in January by acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg to help hammer out an agreement. Rosenberg is the first DEA administrator to visit China in more than a decade.
China has agreed to stop the legal production and sale of carfentanil, furanyl fentanyl, acrylfentanyl and valeryl fentanyl. Millions of dollars worth of drugs legally manufactured in China have been finding their way into illegal distribution channels in North America.
The DEA is hoping the ban will significantly impact the illegal flow of fentanyl products to the U.S. “The significance of that cannot be underestimated as it relates to the impact in the US,” DEA spokesman Russ Baer said. “It’s been a great exchange, and this is great news. It’s a potential game-changer.”
Not the first Chinese drug ban
This isn’t the first time China has acted to cut back on production of potentially dangerous chemicals. The country banned more than 100 synthetic chemicals in October, 2015, including some fentanyl variations.
The problem there, as here in the U.S., is that illicit labs disappear and reappear with alarming ease. Also, as soon as one variant of fentanyl is ruled illegal, another one can hit the streets literally overnight.
That’s not to say that illicit labs don’t get found and busted – plenty do, but plenty do not. It’s a constant cat and mouse game for DEA and state and local narcotics squads. And the same is said to be true in China and everywhere else.
So the previous bans in China may have helped a little with certain fentanyl formulations. But Chinese labs – even legit ones – continued to crank out colossal amounts of fentanyl products which made it into the U.S. – often just by parcel post directly to dealers, sometimes via Canada or Mexico.
Fentanyl’s catastrophic results
With the major increase in the opioid epidemic over the past few years, the addition of fentanyl has had catastrophic results. While heroin remains the biggest problem, along with opioid painkillers like hydrocodone and oxycodone, deaths from all opioids now exceed the worst times of the AIDS epidemic, thanks in no small part to fentanyl.
This new bully-boy on the block is 50 times more powerful than heroin and 100 times more powerful and deadly than morphine. Heroin dealers are using the incredibly cheap heroin-lookalike drug to cut their heroin while boosting its strength. But dealers don’t have precise instruments to regulate the purity or the amount of fentanyl they’re mixing into their heroin.
The results are soaring overdose statistics from coast to coast.
The drug is so much stronger than heroin and prescription opioids that the usual dose of naloxone, the drug that can reverse most opioid overdoses, often doesn’t work on a fentanyl overdose. A second or even a third dose may be needed.
With the advent of fentanyl, mostly from China as well as clandestine local labs, the death rate from synthetic opioids skyrocketed 72 percent from 2014 to 2015. And it’s happening in every state.
Last year in Massachusetts, for example, 75 percent of victims of unintentional opioid overdose had fentanyl in their system. This was up from 57 percent in 2015 – and that was already a staggering and unexpected statistic.
Dangerous even to law enforcement
Fentanyl is so powerful that narcotics agents are warned to wear protective masks and gloves when they raid a lab or handle the drug. What looks like a tiny dusting of a few grains on one’s fingers can be fatal if accidentally ingested. It can even seep in through the skin. Fentanyl powder can poof into the air and kill anyone if inhaled. It’s so dangerous, clean-up after a lab raid, for example, requires a hazmat crew.
In Nashville, TN, last week, 10 kilos of fentanyl were seized during a traffic stop. The stash was worth roughly $13 million, officers said. And local District Attorney Matthew Stowe told Fox News that fentanyl is a major hazard to police officers.
“That thing on TV where the officer dips their finger into the cocaine and put it on their lips… that would kill you if you did it with fentanyl,” Stowe said.
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