Opioid-related Deaths Continue to Rise in the US
The opioid crisis in America continually returns to the headlines, both directly and indirectly. In America in particular we are now witnessing a massive increase in deaths from these powerful synthetic chemicals. Overdose deaths from non-methadone synthetic opioids doubled from 9,580 in 2015 to 19,413 in 2016. By 2017 the figure had further risen over 50 per cent to 29,500. The word “epidemic” has been applied.
President Trump campaigned strongly on opioid control in his 2016 election. He stated last month that “it is outrageous that Poisonous Synthetic Heroin Fentanyl comes pouring into the US Postal System from China”. Chinese officials responded by saying the charges are “unacceptable” and “irresponsible”.
Yu Haibing, a member of China’s National Narcotics Control Commission, said the United States “has no proof that most fentanyl in the country comes from China…It’s highly irresponsible to draw such a conclusion based on some individual cases”.
In several cases, when questioned, US drug enforcement officials have given bland comments about appreciating the cooperation they have received from the Chinese authorities. Their need for cooperation from China means that in the past they have often been reluctant to criticize the country in public.
However, officials have reinforced the US administration in saying that drugs from China are in fact driving the US opioid epidemic. Drugs Enforcement Agency (DEA) official Paul E Knierim testified in Congress earlier this month that the main reason for the growth in US overdoses is the importing of drugs such as fentanyl from China: “DEA has identified numerous illicit fentanyl class substances and hundreds of synthetic drugs from at least eight different drug classes, the vast majority of which are manufactured in China.”
Similarly, EMCDDA, the European drug monitoring agency, makes the same assessment: “It appears that most shipments of new fentanyls coming into Europe originate from companies based in China.”
Given that the Chinese police do not in theory inspect and bless each package of fentanyl as it leaves China by courier, we should not value their assertions as to how many drugs are exported from their country as highly as the statements of the US authorities who find the drugs (and only a part of them).
Another front in the opioid war opened up when President Trump recently took on the Universal Postal Union (UPU) which sets international rates. The UPU classes China as one of the world’s least developed countries and is accordingly charged modest charges for parcels to developed countries. A US firm may pay $8 to ship a parcel from Los Angeles to New York but the US postal service receives $2.50 for a parcel of Chinese origin following the same route.
There are two points here. First, it represents unfair competition for US companies. Peter Navarro, President Trump’s trade adviser, has observed that “it is often possible for a Chinese company to sell ‘knock-off’ products through online vendors, such as Amazon or Alibaba, to US consumers for less than it costs for American mailers to ship authentic goods.” Yes, China can sell and ship to the US for less than a US firm’s shipping cost alone.
The second point is that these cheap shipping rates are a boon to China’s huge illegal drug trade as well as its trade in counterfeit goods. The US is pushing UPU member countries to send advance electronic customs data to help detect opioids. The 2018 Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention Act (STOP Act) is the main thrust here.
Fentanyl-related overdoses – at over 30,000 – are becoming a very serious cause of death in the United States. Despite China’s protests, the country seems to be the primary source of the illegal drugs, both directly and via Mexico. Absurdly low international postal rates are abetting this fatal trend. The US administration seems willing to force change.