Secretary of State Antony Blinken under pressure to push China on role in lethal fentanyl trade when he visits Beijing

Members of Congress are urging Secretary of State Antony Blinken to do more to stem the flow of fentanyl and synthetic opioids into the United States during his visit to the country, which is due to take place 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, citing China’s role in the “fentanyl crisis” as one of many issues he should address.

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

Fentanyl is an extremely potent synthetic drug that 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 sale of fentanyl in 2019, which was 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, often shipped to Mexico and used by cartels to make fentanyl, which is shipped across the border.

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“China is the leading producer of these precursor chemicals and ships and sells them to the two major Mexican cartels (Sinaloa and New Generation) that produce fentanyl,” said David Luckey, a senior international and defense researcher at RAND Corporation.

“Virtually 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 “has to be Minister Blinken’s most important mission when he gets there”.

Experts and lawmakers say the production of precursor chemicals in China is a key factor in the ongoing opioid crisis.

“The synthetic opioid trade is an area where even a few significant moves by the PRC (People’s Republic of China) can play a significant role in combating this worsening epidemic and saving American lives,” Trone wrote in a last month Letter to Blink. He urged Blinken not to negotiate with Chinese officials on other issues until he received a commitment from Beijing to do more to contain the fentanyl crisis.

Trone, whose nephew died from a fentanyl overdose, believes China should commit to adopting rules requiring drug companies to know their customers, introducing and enforcing export regulations for the chemical sector, and working with US agencies like the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Office of National Drug Control Policy to work together to crack down on the fentanyl trade.

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Blinken has directed his State Department team to work with interagency partners to do “everything possible” to address this deadly crisis, which is the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 18 and 49, State Department spokesman Ned Price said , earlier this year.

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

“Sensible concrete action”

“Although its actions to date have helped combat illicit synthetic drugs, we continue to call on the PRC to take additional meaningful concrete measures to curb the diversion of precursor chemicals and equipment used by criminals to manufacture fentanyl and other synthetic drugs.” be used,” Price said.

Some lawmakers believe Blinken should offer trade talks with China if it joins efforts to contain the fentanyl crisis. Still other congressional aides say China will only respond to pressure and believe the government should consider steps – including additional sanctions related to the dangerous substances – to compel its commitment.

Todd Robinson, the State Department’s chief official for international drug and law enforcement affairs, said the effective way to address the challenge is through “collaboration and cooperation.”

“China has its own narcotics problems. Mexico has its narcotics problems. Colombia also have a problem have a problem.”

But the need for Chinese involvement is clear: cutting supplies of precursor chemicals from China would have a “huge” impact on the crisis and would mean “a dramatic drop” in US drug overdose deaths, Robinson said.

China is the largest producer of chemicals found in everyday products like cleaning products. Many Chinese companies have started to produce and sell the precursor chemicals in addition to the chemicals already manufactured.

The challenges of tackling the root of the problem remain when China and other countries often turn the tables on the US, blaming Americans for the addiction problem that drives demand.

“It’s not that easy to say, ‘China, stop producing and exporting these chemicals.’ This problem has several sides. said happiness.

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

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

Jordan Dennison is a resident of the state who grew up with parents who were drug addicts and developed his own opioid addiction as a teenager. A few years ago – after more than 10 overdoses – he finally got clean. The 30-year-old now works in an aid program to bring addicts into treatment.

“Drugs caused me to lose everything. Every relationship I’ve ever had. I learned that what I was taking wasn’t heroin, it was fentanyl. I picked it up off the street, I’d go anywhere to get it,” he told CNN. “I never knew where it came from, but I always thought it was from China.”

(The CNN Wire & 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.) Secretary of State Antony Blinken under pressure to push China on role in lethal fentanyl trade when he visits Beijing

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