China Denies Responsiblity for Fentanyl Crisis

By Pat Anson, Editor

China is disputing claims that most of the illicit fentanyl and related chemicals that are being smuggled into the U.S. and killing thousand of Americans originated in China. President Trump has said he would ask Chinese President Xi Jinping to “hold back the flood of cheap and deadly fentanyl” when he visits Beijing this week.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. It is prescribed legally to treat severe pain, but illicit fentanyl and its chemical analogues have become a scourge on the black market, where they are often mixed with heroin or turned into counterfeit prescription drugs.

“The evidence isn't sufficient to say that the majority of fentanyl or other new psychoactive substances come from China," said Wei Xiaojun, deputy director-general of China’s Narcotics Control Bureau of the Ministry of Public Security.

Wei spoke at a joint news conference Friday with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. China and the DEA have stepped up their cooperation on drug control problems in recent months, with Beijing putting dozens of fentanyl related chemicals on its list of controlled substances.

“Once China controls a substance it has a dramatic effect on the United States in terms of lives saved,” said Lance Ho, who heads a new DEA office in Beijing.

DEA PHOTO OF counterfeit FENTANYL PILLS

DEA PHOTO OF counterfeit FENTANYL PILLS

"We did this even when there is no widespread fentanyl abuse in China," Wei said. "We were aware of the crisis in the U.S. and took the U.S. concern into consideration."

But an editorial in a Korean newspaper disputed the level of Chinese cooperation, claiming that China was using fentanyl in a “chemical war” against the U.S.

“Fentanyl is the nuclear narcotic that is killing thousands of Americans today and another example of China’s two-faced approach. The chemical, known as ‘China Girl’ or ‘China White’ on the street, may have some Chinese victims, but its true value is as a profitable opiate export that also destroys American communities and roils the U.S. political landscape,” said The Korea Herald. 

“Drug exports have allowed for the establishment of new Chinese-run drug cartels and distributors within the United States while untimely and tragic American deaths are recorded daily.”

According to the CDC, illicit fentanyl killed 20,000 Americans in 2016. A recent CDC study found that over half the opioid overdoses in ten states involved fentanyl.

Son of Fox News Anchor Overdosed on Fentanyl

The son of a former Fox News anchor overdosed and died after taking counterfeit prescription drugs made with fentanyl, according to reports.

19-year old Eric Bolling Jr. was found dead in his Boulder, Colorado apartment September 3. He is the son of Eric Bolling, who was recently fired by Fox News for allegedly sending lewd texts to several women.

The Boulder County coroner recently reported the younger Bolling had high levels of fentanyl, cocaine, marijuana and the anti-anxiety drug Xanax in his system when he died.

According to police, Bolling and a friend had gone to Denver the day before his death to buy cocaine and other drugs. They bought five pills that appeared to look like Percocet, a branded version of the painkiller oxycodone. Bolling, who had a history of drug abuse, took one of the pills and quickly realized it wasn’t Percocet.

ERIC BOLLING AND SON ERIC JR.

ERIC BOLLING AND SON ERIC JR.

“Eric took half of a percocet and the cocaine dealer took half of a percocet. Within a few minutes Eric and the percocet dealer started ‘panicking’ because they had a different reaction to the percocet than they normally do. Eric made the comment that he thought the percocet may have contained fentanyl,” investigators said in a police report obtained by TheBlast.com.

Bolling’s body was found by a girlfriend the next day. His death has been ruled accidental.

The DEA recently added three more fentanyl analogues -- ortho-fluorofentanyl, tetrahydrofuranyl fentanyl, and methoxyacetyl fentanyl  -- to its list of Schedule I Controlled Substances, chemicals that are considered highly dangerous and addictive.

At least 17 confirmed overdose deaths have been linked to the three drugs in Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, New Jersey, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. The drugs have also been found in California, Florida, Ohio and Missouri.

The Justice Department recently indicted two major Chinese drug traffickers accused of manufacturing fentanyl in drug labs in China and selling it to U.S. customers over the Internet.

Is China Doing Enough to Stop Fentanyl Smuggling?

By Pat Anson, Editor

China has been an "incredible partner" in cracking down on illicit fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

"When a particular drug is identified as being a problem, China has been an incredible partner in helping to stop the production of drugs like fentanyl in China," Price told The Associated Press during a visit to China this week.

A closer look suggests otherwise. Mexican drug cartels continue to smuggle alarming amounts of fentanyl – usually produced in China -- into the U.S. and Canada, where it is often mixed with heroin or turned into counterfeit painkillers.

Consider these recent news reports:

The Mexican military last Saturday seized 63.8 kilograms of fentanyl (over 140 pounds) at a checkpoint just yards from the U.S. border near Yuma, Arizona. The newspaper El Financiero reported the powdered fentanyl was found hidden inside a tractor trailer rig, along with nearly 30,000 tablets made with the chemical. The shipment had an estimated street value of $1.2 billion – by far the largest seizure ever of illicit fentanyl.

A week earlier, DEA agents confiscated 30,000 more counterfeit pills at a traffic stop near Tempe, the largest seizure of fentanyl tablets in Arizona history. The Tucson News reported the drugs were connected to the Sinaloa drug cartel.   

The fake pills were designed to look like oxycodone -- an "M" and a "30" were stamped on the blue tablets.

"This massive seizure removed thousands of potentially lethal doses of this powerful narcotic off the streets," said DEA Special Agent in Charge Doug Coleman. 

COUNTERFEIT PILLS SEIZED IN TEMPE, ARIZONA (DEA PHOTO)

COUNTERFEIT PILLS SEIZED IN TEMPE, ARIZONA (DEA PHOTO)

It doesn’t take much fentanyl to kill someone – the chemical is 50 to 100 more potent than morphine. Many addicts looking for a high or pain sufferers looking for relief have no idea what they’re buying on the black market.  Experts say a single dose of fentanyl as small as two or three milligrams can be fatal.  

New Jersey’s Attorney General said this week that a suspected drug dealer arrested in March with 14 kilograms of fentanyl – less than a quarter of what was seized in Mexico last weekend -- was enough “to kill more than half the population of the state.” The “super potent” fentanyl, believed to have been shipped from China, “could have yielded upward of five million lethal doses," according to Attorney General Christopher Porrino.

“Fentanyl is commonly mixed with heroin or cocaine for sale on the street, or is sold in powder compounds or counterfeit pills disguised as heroin, oxycodone or Xanax,” Porrino’s office said in a statement.  “Given the tiny size of a lethal dose, drug users are dying because dealers are careless about how much fentanyl they put in such mixes and pills."

Federal prosecutors say a drug ring busted earlier this year in San Antonio, Texas produced hundreds of thousands of counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl and sold them over the Internet to customers all over the country. DEA agents believe several people may have died after ingesting the pills, which were disguised to look like oxycodone, Adderall or Xanax.  

According to the San Antonio Express News, at least 70 packages of fake pills being shipped through the U.S. Postal Service were intercepted. Another 120 packages ready for shipment were seized when the drug ring was finally shutdown, along with four commercial pill press machines. Prosecutors say the fentanyl was obtained from China.

“I’ve never seen a case like this,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Joey Contreras. “The quantities they’re able to distribute, and in anonymity, are staggering.”

China has promised before to crackdown on illicit manufacturers of fentanyl.  In February, China’s National Narcotics Control Commission announced that it was “scheduling controls” on four fentanyl-class substances. The move came after several months of talks with U.S. officials and was widely praised by the DEA.

“These actions will undoubtedly save American lives and I would like to thank my Chinese counterparts for their actions on this important issue," Acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg said in a news release.

President Trump’s opioid commission is taking a dimmer viewer of China’s efforts. In its interim report to the president last month, the commission warned that illicit fentanyl was “the next grave challenge on the opioid front” and that stronger efforts were needed from China to stop fentanyl smuggling.

We are miserably losing this fight to prevent fentanyl from entering our country and killing our citizens. We are losing this fight predominately through China. This must become a top tier diplomatic issue with the Chinese; American lives are at stake and it threatens our national security,” the commission said.

China Agrees to Crackdown on Fentanyl

By Pat Anson, Editor

China is finally taking steps to stop the production of illicit fentanyl, a synthetic opioid blamed for thousands of drug overdoses in the U.S. and Canada.

China’s National Narcotics Control Commission announced this week that it is “scheduling controls” against four fentanyl-class substances – carfentanil, furanyl fentanyl, valeryl fentanyl, and acryl fentanyl, starting on March 1, 2017.  The announcement came after several months of talks between the Chinese government and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

"Fentanyl-related compounds represent a significant and deadly component of the current opioid crisis.  These actions will undoubtedly save American lives and I would like to thank my Chinese counterparts for their actions on this important issue," said Acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg in a news release.

"It shows China's attitude as a responsible big country," Yu Haibin, the director of the Office of the National Narcotics Control Committee, told the Associated Press. "It will be a strong deterrent."

DEA officials say China’s move is a potential “game-changer” in the opioid epidemic, because it will close a loophole that allowed Chinese laboratories to manufacture fentanyl and its chemical cousins legally.

DEA PHOTO

DEA PHOTO

The substances were then shipped to Mexico before being smuggled into the U.S. and Canada, where they were often mixed with heroin or used in the manufacture of counterfeit oxycodone and other painkillers. Traffickers also purchased pill presses from China, according to the DEA.

COUNTERFEIT OXYCODONE

COUNTERFEIT OXYCODONE

“The counterfeit pills often closely resemble the authentic medications they were designed to mimic, and the presence of fentanyls is only detected upon laboratory analysis,” the DEA warned in a report last summer.

Fentanyl is up to 100 times more potent than morphine. It is legally prescribed in lozenges and patches to treat severe pain. Carfentanil is so potent it is used by veterinarians as an anesthetic on elephants.

Illicit fentanyl is mixed with heroin to increase its potency, but dealers and buyers may not know exactly what they are selling or ingesting. Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Ohio and other states have reported an “alarming surge” in fentanyl related deaths. In some states, the number of deaths from illicit fentanyl now exceeds those from prescription opioids.

Two public health researchers have speculated that a “malicious actor” could be behind some of those deaths.

“These highly potent pills could have been created by a malicious actor to intentionally poison consumers or attract the attention of law enforcement to redistributors,” wrote Traci Green, PhD, Boston University School of Medicine, and Michael Gilbert, MPH, Epidemico Inc., in a research letter published in JAMA Internal Medicine.