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Fentanyl and Its Precursors: US-China Cooperation



  Apr 18, 2024

Fentanyl and Its Precursors: US-China Cooperation



What is fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid primarily used for pain relief in medical settings. It's significantly stronger than morphine.

Why is fentanyl dangerous?

Even tiny amounts can be deadly. Illicitly produced fentanyl is often mixed with other drugs, making it hard for users to know the actual dosage they are taking. This leads to a high risk of overdose.

Where does the illicit fentanyl in the U.S. come from?

Much of it originates from precursor chemicals sourced from China and manufactured into fentanyl by Mexican drug cartels.

Precursor Chemicals

What are precursor chemicals?

These are chemicals used as ingredients to manufacture illicit drugs. In the case of fentanyl, precursors can be scheduled (regulated) or nonscheduled.

Why are nonscheduled precursors a problem?

They are often easier to obtain as they are not as strictly controlled, allowing criminal networks to exploit loopholes while technically staying within the law.

Pill Presses

What is a pill press?

It's a machine used to compress powder into pill form.

How do pill presses contribute to the fentanyl problem?

Mexican cartels use pill presses to make counterfeit pills that look like prescription drugs (like OxyContin) but actually contain fentanyl, increasing the risk of accidental overdose for unsuspecting users.

China's Role

Why is China a focus in the fentanyl crisis?

China has been a major source of both scheduled and nonscheduled precursor chemicals used by Mexican cartels to produce fentanyl. It's also a key manufacturer of pill presses.

How does China justify its past lack of enforcement?

China claimed it couldn't control nonscheduled chemicals and lacked the legal framework to properly regulate the industries involved.

US-China Cooperation on Fentanyl Control in 2024

Renewed Efforts

What prompted the US and China to restart cooperation on fentanyl control in November 2023?


► China's Strategic Goals: A desire to stabilize the deteriorating relationship with the US across various issues.

► US Actions: Effective diplomacy, including indictments against Chinese networks, reputational pressure through international efforts, and forming a global anti-synthetic drug coalition.

What specific actions did China agree to take?


► Crack down on the export of precursor chemicals used in fentanyl production.

► Regulate pill press manufacturing and sales to prevent their use by criminal organizations.

► Collaborate with the US on anti-money laundering efforts to disrupt drug cartels' financial networks.

► Engage in international discussions on controlling synthetic drugs at forums like the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

Uncertainties and Challenges

What are the potential roadblocks to long-term cooperation?


► Geopolitical Tensions: Renewed friction in the US-China relationship could lead China to backslide on its commitments.

► Legal Hurdles: China may find it difficult to prosecute those involved in the nonscheduled precursor trade due to claimed limitations in its legal framework.

How can the effectiveness of China's cooperation be measured?


► Responsiveness to US intelligence sharing on drug trafficking activities.

► Increase in arrests and prosecutions within China targeting fentanyl-related crimes.

► Adoption of stricter Know Your Customer (KYC) regulations for Chinese pharmaceutical and chemical companies to prevent sales to suspicious entities.

The Road Ahead

What can the US do to maintain China's engagement?


► Continue multilateral pressure through the Global Coalition to Address Synthetic Drug Threats.

► Expand cooperation to include controlling methamphetamine, a major concern in Southeast Asia, where China holds significant influence.

Why might fentanyl overdose deaths remain high in the US even with improved US-China cooperation?


► Mexican cartels likely have stockpiled precursor chemicals and may seek alternative sources.

► The emergence of new, potentially deadlier synthetic drugs like xylazine poses ongoing threats.

What steps can the US take to address these challenges?

► Collaborate with other countries to disrupt precursor chemical production and trafficking globally.


► Increase efforts to raise awareness about the dangers of fentanyl and other synthetic drugs.

► Support research into developing effective treatment options for overdoses from these powerful drugs.


SRIRAM's

 


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