U.S. law enforcement and drug investigators have singled out China as a main exporter of illegal fentanyl now flooding American streets.
Nearly a million packages a day enter the U.S. Postal Service system from other countries, and more than 90 percent of them come without advanced electronic data — the shipper’s name and address, a description of the contents and a package’s weight — that law enforcement says could help stem the flow of drugs from overseas labs.
Here are five reasons why authorities point to China as a main contributor to the opioid crisis:
Chemical industry vast, lightly regulated: China’s large chemical and pharmaceutical industries manufacture vast quantities of the synthetic opioid and its analogues for export with little regulatory oversight.
Fentanyl little-used in China: Chinese authorities place little emphasis on controlling fentanyl production or export because the synthetic opioid is not widely used in China.
Drug hard to trace: The fentanyl is sometimes difficult to trace because it arrives through a range of products that include fentanyl-laced counterfeit prescription drugs like oxycodone.
Exporters game the system: Chinese chemical exporters get around U.S. laws by exploiting unregulated online ordering systems, mislabel shipments, and modify banned substances to create yet-illegal substances.
U.S. slow to schedule new substances: U.S. regulations prevent U.S. agencies from quickly adding new drugs or ingredients to the list of banned and controlled substances.
By the numbers
160,000: Number of chemical companies operating legally and illegally throughout China.
368: Number of pounds of illicit fentanyl seized by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office in 2015.
116: Number of synthetic chemicals, including six fentanyl products, China added to its list of controlled substances in 2015.
191: Number of foreign postal services not required to supply U.S. authorities with advance screening information on packages.
9,580: Number of U.S. deaths in 2015 from fentanyl and other illicitly manufactured synthetic opioids.
Sources: U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission report, Feb. 1, 2017; Americans for Securing All Packages; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention