Despite the Chinese regime banning fentanyl and its analogs in 2019, China remains the primary source of illicit fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances being trafficked into the United States, according to a new report by a U.S. congressional advisory body.
Chinese traffickers have found sophisticated ways to circumvent these regulations, a U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) report states. This includes shifting their business from manufacturing finished fentanyl to exporting precursors to Mexican cartels, who then produce the drug and traffic it across the border.
Those evasion efforts have been enabled by the Chinese regime’s “weak supervision and regulation” of its chemical industry, the report states.
The findings come as U.S. agencies have continued to grapple in recent years with the country’s devastating opioid crisis, fueled by a surge in the use of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times more potent than heroin, and its variants.
The United States saw a record number of overdose deaths from synthetic opioids in 2020, at more than 56,000—a rise of 20,000 from 2019, according to provisional data by the National Center for Health Statistics.
Since Beijing’s ban on fentanyl in 2019, there has been a decline in the amount of finished fentanyl shipped directly from China—typically by mail—into the country, the report states, but illicit fentanyl has remained widely available in the United States.
To evade authorities, Chinese traffickers have pivoted their operations to focus mainly on producing and shipping chemical precursors to Mexico, the USCC report states, citing the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). This also means Chinese traffickers have increased their cooperation with Mexican cartels, particularly with the country’s two most powerful crime syndicates, the Sinaloa cartel and the Jalisco New Generation cartel.
The cartels control “pill mills” in Mexican cities, which manufacture finished fentanyl from the China-sourced precursors. They then smuggle the drug into the United States.
By Cathy He