Since July 2016, according to Digital Journal
, a string of overdoses across the U.S. and Canada has been linked to a deadly synthetic opioid called carfentanil, an analog of Fentanyl. This chemical weapon is 5,000 times more powerful than heroin, and an amount no bigger than a poppy seed can kill you.
On Thursday, China's Ministry of Public Security announced they were outlawing the manufacture of carfentanil, as well as valeryl fentanyl, acryl fentanyl, and furanyl fentanyl, synthetic opioids that have been legal in China, including the sale online to drug users in the U.S. and Canada. The ban goes into effect on March 1, 2017, according to ABC News
The DEA expects that the ban will put a huge dent in the illicit drug supply chain that has been fueling the drug epidemic in the U.S. “It’s a huge announcement for us,” DEA spokesman Russell Baer told VICE News
. “We’re thinking it’s going to potentially have an immediate and practical impact on drug flows into the U.S.”
In November, Digital Journal
reported there had been over 400 seizures of the illegal, weapons-grade chemical, carfentanil, by the DEA just since July and in Canada, there were also a number of seizures.
In the United States, the surge in the use of the deadly drug resulted in 236 overdoses, including 14 fatalities in 21 days in Akron, Ohio in July 2016. And the numbers have kept growing, not only in the states but in Canada. And adding to the problem, very few laboratories in either country are equipped to identify the drug.
While the DEA may be applauding China's efforts at banning carfentanil, the actual effects of the ban remain to be seen. As with previously outlawed drugs, all it takes is a slight "tweaking" of the chemicals used in manufacture to create a new drug that may be similar chemically, but not illegal.
“Of course Chinese chemists and global chemists will tweak molecular structures and that sort of thing,” Baer said. “But that’s not going to diminish our aggressive approach to this problem.”
And while the ban specifically named carfentanil and the three other opioids, the regulations do not have any effect on the chemicals used to make them and they still remain unregulated. This means that underground drug trafficking organizations in the Americas and Asia will still find it relatively easy to make carfentanil.
It should be noted that furanyl fentanyl is “in top three in terms of national availability of fentanyl compounds,” says Baer. He adds that acryl fentanyl has started showing up in drug seizures recently.
“The U.S. is the one with the opioid addiction problem,” Baer said. “China, they’ve gone out of their way in many respects to understand our concerns. It’s a global problem, China is a part of it, as is the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. We’ve been working together to get our arms around it and address some of these issues collectively.”