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article imageChina-U.S. opioid pipeline fuels our drug crisis via 'Dark Web'

By Karen Graham     Mar 31, 2017 in Health
The United States is in the midst of a major health crisis, and it is not just our young people who are at risk. Synthetic opioids, far cheaper than heroin are flooding our streets and they have been linked to underground labs in China.
President Trump on Wednesday appointed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to head up a new national opioid commission, even though the federal government already has a White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Christie has 90 days to come up with a to combat opioid addiction and the opioid crisis, according to PBS.org.
However, while everyone has been talking about the opioid crisis going on in this country for the past several years, we have not been making a lot of headway in stopping it. In December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, showing that synthetic opioid deaths from overdose rose 73 percent, to 9,580. Abuse of drugs like Oxycontin and Vicodin killed 17,536, an increase of four percent.
Highly potent and addictive  the analgesic fentanyl is estimated to be up to 100 times stronger th...
Highly potent and addictive, the analgesic fentanyl is estimated to be up to 100 times stronger than morphine. The related drug carfentanil is 100 times more powerful than fentanyl
Drew Angerer, Getty/AFP/File
The CDC also warned that the distribution of illicitly produced fentanyl, most often from China, is fueling the increase in a high percentage of overdose deaths, something that has been discussed At length in recent news reports, including in Digital Journal.
According to Fox News on Friday, the DEA is saying a homemade designer version of fentanyl has been at the center of drug busts across the country over the past month - With officials pinpointing its origin as coming from illicit underground labs in China.
Fox also quotes the DEA as saying the China-U.S. supply is further fueling the country’s drug epidemic. “This stuff is unbelievably potent. It is so powerful that even a tiny amount can kill you,” said DEA spokesman Rusty Payne.
“China is by far the most significant manufacturer of illicit designer synthetic drugs. There is so much manufacturing of new drugs, [it’s] amazing what is coming out of China. Hundreds of [versions], including synthetic fentanyl and fentanyl-based compounds.”
Fentanyl transdermal patches were being sold on the street for $300 to $500 per patch.
Fentanyl transdermal patches were being sold on the street for $300 to $500 per patch.
NIH
The China-U.S. synthetic opioid link is not new
In march 2016, the DEA was already investigating synthetic opioids related to a string of overdose deaths in California, and over the last year, it was confirmed by The DEA and other federal law enforcement officials that most of the opioid-lookalikes were coming out of China.
It took awhile, but finally, China enacted a regulation that went into effect on March 1, 2017, that outlaws carfentanil along with three other powerful synthetic opioids. At the time the announcement of the ban was made public, the DEA said they felt it would put a huge dent in Internet sales of the drugs.
While the DEA was 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.
And that is what's happening in the U.S. now. Basically, the DEA had classified fentanyl as a schedule II drug years ago. By adding chemical groups, unscrupulous chemists have created new, unregulated variants, some of them even more potent than the original. The new drug, while similar to fentanyl, is legal until it is determined to be an illegal drug in the U.S.
Bitcoins can be exchanged for goods and services  provided another party is willing to accept them  ...
Bitcoins can be exchanged for goods and services, provided another party is willing to accept them, but until now they been used mostly for shady transactions or to buy illegal goods and services on the "dark" web
Leon Neal, AFP/File
The Internet and the dark web fuel drug sales
Minnesota Public Radio is reporting that five people were arrested this week for selling pills laced with the powerful painkiller fentanyl. Police say over 500 pills were seized during the arrest. Grand Forks police lieutenant Brett Johnson said, "It's hard to tell how widespread the problem is. The pills can be ordered over the Internet or over the dark web and that makes it pretty difficult to determine how widespread the problem is."
Anyone can order just about anything today over the Internet, from poisonous snakes and exotic animals to illicit drugs. In Fairfax County, Virginia this month, an individual was prosecuted for purchasing fentanyl opioids on the dark web from China, then repackaging the drug in smaller lots and selling it using the post office.
Representative Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) is the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. In Morning Consult, Murphy writes that fentanyl is replacing heroin and cocaine as the go-to drug of choice for dealers. He explains: "A kilogram of heroin purchased from Colombia for roughly $6,000 can be sold wholesale for $80,000. But purchase pure fentanyl or an analog of fentanyl on the dark web and you're essentially set to make big bucks.
A prescription for Oxycontin is often the first step in becoming a heroin user today.
A prescription for Oxycontin is often the first step in becoming a heroin user today.
CBC News
A kilogram of pure fentanyl, purchased from China for less than $5,000, is so potent that it can be stretched into 16 to 24 kilograms when using cutting agents like talcum powder or caffeine. Each kilogram of fentanyl can be sold wholesale for $80,000—for a total profit in the neighborhood of $1.6 million.
So Governor Christie and his committee are going to have a huge job on their hands. And while clinics, support groups and getting physicians to stop issuing so many prescriptions for legal opioids is a good start, breaking the supply chain out of China is the way to cut the head off the poisonous snake.
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