Secretary of State Antony Blinken under pressure to push China over its role in deadly fentanyl trade during visit to Beijing

Members of Congress are urging Secretary of State Antony Blinken to pressure China to do more to curb the flow of fentanyl and synthetic opioids into the United States during his expected visit to the country in the next few days.

On Wednesday, a group of 14 Republican senators led by Florida’s Marco Rubio wrote to Blinken ahead of his trip, highlighting China’s role in the “fentanyl crisis” as one of many issues they wanted him to address. .

More than 100,000 Americans died from drug overdoses from July 2021 to July 2022 and two-thirds of those deaths were fueled by synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, according to the CDC.

An extremely potent synthetic drug, fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin.

The Chinese government cracked down on the manufacture and distribution of fentanyl in 2019, a move welcomed by the Trump administration. As a result, China is no longer the primary source of fentanyl entering the United States. But it’s still the main source of precursor chemicals that are often shipped into Mexico and used by cartels to produce fentanyl that crosses the border.

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“China is the main producer of these precursor chemicals and ships and sells them to the two main Mexican cartels (Sinaloa and New Generation) producing fentanyl,” explained David Luckey, senior international and defense researcher at RAND Corporation.

“Almost 98% of the precursor chemicals used to make fentanyl come from China,” Democratic Rep. David Trone of Maryland told CNN. Getting China to engage in this crisis “must be Secretary Blinken’s number one mission when he gets there.”

Experts and lawmakers say the production of precursor chemicals in China is a major factor fueling the current opioid crisis.

“Synthetic opioid trafficking is an area where even a few significant steps by the PRC (People’s Republic of China) can play an important role in combating the worsening epidemic and saving American lives,” Trone wrote. in a letter to Blinken last month. He urged Blinken not to negotiate with Chinese officials on other matters until he secured a commitment from Beijing to do more to stem the fentanyl crisis.

Trone, whose nephew died of a fentanyl overdose, says China should commit to rules requiring pharma companies to know their customers, put in place and enforce export regulations in the sector chemicals and to cooperate with U.S. agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Office of National Drug Control Policy to crack down on the fentanyl trade.

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Blinken has asked his State Department team to work with interagency partners to do “everything possible” to address this deadly crisis that is killing the most Americans between the ages of 18 and 49, the gatekeeper said. State Department spokesman, Ned Price, earlier this year.

But it is unclear what direct requests he will make to the Chinese government during his visit.

“A significant concrete action”

“While its past action has helped in the fight against illicit synthetic drugs, we continue to urge the PRC to take additional meaningful concrete steps to curb the diversion of precursor chemicals and equipment used by criminals to manufacture fentanyl and other synthetic drugs,” Price said.

Some lawmakers believe Blinken should offer trade talks with China if it engages in efforts related to containing the fentanyl crisis. Still, other congressional aides say China will only respond to pressure and believe the administration should consider measures, including additional sanctions related to hazardous substances, to force their engagement.

Todd Robinson, the State Department’s top official for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, said the effective way to approach the challenge will be through “collaboration and cooperation.”

“China has its own problems with narcotics. Mexico has its problems with narcotics. Colombia has a problem too. And what we said is that it’s not a problem anymore where you can’t use that one or the other. I have a problem.”

But the need for Chinese engagement is clear: Reducing the supply of precursor chemicals from China would have a “huge” impact on the crisis and “mean a dramatic decrease” in American deaths from drug overdoses, Robinson said. .

China is the largest producer of chemicals found in everyday products such as cleaning products. Many Chinese companies have started producing and selling precursor chemicals in addition to the chemicals they already produce.

Challenges to getting to the root of the problem persist when China and other countries often reverse the roles of the United States and blame Americans for the addiction problem that drives demand.

“It’s not as simple as saying ‘China, stop producing and exporting these chemicals.’ stop buying and using drugs'”. Luckey said.

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Many Americans directly connected to the crisis are watching Blinken’s trip closely.

West Virginia — which recorded more than 1,300 synthetic opioid deaths from March 2021 to March 2022, according to the CDC — is an epicenter of the domestic crisis.

Jordan Dennison lives in the state, grew up with drug-addicted parents, and developed his own addiction to opioids as a teenager. A few years ago, after more than 10 overdoses, he finally got clean. The 30-year-old now works in an outreach program bringing drug addicts to treatment.

“Drugs made me lose everything. Every relationship I ever had. I learned that what I was using wasn’t heroin, it was fentanyl. I was getting it in the street, I would go anywhere to get it,” he told CNN. . “I never knew where it came from, but I always assumed it was from China.”

(The-CNN-Wire & 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner company. All rights reserved.)


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