US Mulls a Quid Pro Quo to Enlist China in Opioid Fight

(Photo by Alex Green via Pexels)

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The US and China don’t agree on many issues — military expansion in the South China Sea, Ukraine, sanctions on semiconductors, and the proliferation of TikTok, for starters.

But these frenemies might come together on at least one thing: the fentanyl drug trade.

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The highly lethal synthetic opioid is 50 times more powerful than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. Of the 107,000 overdose deaths in the US last year, nearly 70% were a result of fentanyl use, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Mexican drug cartels often receive much of the attention for the US opioid epidemic, but the Drug Enforcement Administration considers Chinese chemical companies the primary source for both fentanyl and its chemical ingredients.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken broached the drug trade last month when he visited Beijing, and now the two nations could join forces to fight the crisis, sources told The Wall Street Journal. But China is looking to use some leverage:

  • The US has technology sanctions on the Chinese Ministry of Public Security’s Institute of Forensic Science for its alleged role in mass surveillance and human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other minority groups. Chinese officials say the sanctions hurt its ability to stop drug traffickers and wants them lifted if the US wants its help.
  • China also refutes the idea that it’s linked to the drug problem in the US. Instead, its officials argue that America’s issues are domestic and that Washington has lagged on prosecuting homegrown prescription drug companies as well as raising awareness about the dangers of opioids.

Easy Come, Easy Go: Whenever tensions calm between the US and China, the era of good feelings only lasts so long. Just last month, the Department of Justice indicted a slew of Chinese chemical companies and executives with conspiring to manufacture fentanyl and related chemicals that would then be distributed in the US. Two employees were arrested by DEA agents after being expelled from Fiji, a move that China condemned.