What’s the story?
- The global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic’s ground zero ― Wuhan, China ― has historically been a major source of chemicals used by drug traffickers to manufacture illicit drugs, including the synthetic opioid fentanyl.
- During the more than 10 weeks that Wuhan was locked down because of the outbreak, the supply chain of the precursor substances used to make fentanyl was disrupted according to a report by the Associated Press.
- Ben Westhoff, the author of Fentanyl, Inc., explained to the AP that the Wuhan lockdown slowed the flow of the substances to Mexico, where cartels take fentanyl and smuggle it across the U.S. border, but that :
“The quarantine of Wuhan and all the chaos there definitely affected the fentanyl trade, particularly between China and Mexico. The main reason China has been the main supplier is the same reason China is the supplier of everything ― it does it so cheaply. There was really no cost incentive for the cartels to develop this themselves… Because of the coronavirus they’re starting to do it in house.”
- In addition to cartels beginning to manufacture their own fentanyl, it’s possible that drug traffickers in Wuhan may resume their production of the drug and its precursors now that the lockdown has been lifted.
What is fentanyl?
- Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50-100 times more potent than morphine and up to 50 times more potent than heroin. Its potency and use as a bioweapon in conflicts overseas has led to calls for its designation as a “weapon of mass destruction.”
- Because it’s relatively cheap for drug traffickers to obtain fentanyl, it has become increasingly prevalent as a street drug sold as a standalone substance or cut with heroin.
- The results have been tragic, as there has been a dramatic increase in fentanyl overdoses in recent years. This chart from USAFacts shows the 800% increase in overdose deaths attributable to fentanyl between 2013 and 2017:
Blocking Fentanyl Imports
- A bill in Congress known as the Blocking Deadly Fentanyl Imports Act (H.R. 1098) would make foreign countries that allow exports of fentanyl & its precursors ineligible for taxpayer-subsidized U.S. foreign aid from the Export-Import Bank.
- It would also require the State Dept. to identify nations that are major fentanyl producers in its annual narcotics report like it does for countries producing heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine.
- Disaster relief, food & medical aid, and refugee assistance would be exempt under the bill. Additionally, the president could waive the foreign aid ban for countries that cooperate with efforts to reduce fentanyl exports to the U.S.
- The bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) with original cosponsors Reps. Gerry Connelly (D-VA) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), and has a total of 12 bipartisan cosponsors. The Senate version is sponsored by Sens. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Doug Jones (D-AL).
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: iStock.com / Darwin Brandis)
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