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Chinese companies are to blame for shipments of America’s most potent opioids, says U.S. report

Otherwise legitimate chemical and pharmaceutical companies in China are manufacturing powerful illicit drugs for sale in the United States, helping to fuel an unprecedented epidemic in opioid use, according to a study from the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

Fentanyl—a synthetic opioid that can kill in even minuscule doses—returned to the spotlight last year after Prince died from an accidental fentanyl overdose. The report released Wednesday, which was prepared for Congress, says that limited regulation has made it possible for even legitimate Chinese companies and laboratories to produce fentanyl and related chemicals that are increasingly to blame for overdoses in the U.S., where they’re often shipped from China disguised as legal chemicals and sometimes sold mixed with heroin. 

Here’s a map, cited in the report, of where U.S. authorities found the drug in 2015, and where it seized supplies or shipments between 2013 and 2015:  


As noted in the report, and as I reported last summer, countless websites for China-based companies openly sell fentanyl and associated substances as “research chemicals” to international customers. By synthesizing subtle new analogs of the drug, firms have been able to avoid Chinese export laws and to stay one step ahead of US’s banned substances list. China has in the past disputed U.S. claims about the size of its role in fentanyl drug production, but has also made highly-publicized efforts to stem illegal drug factories. In a sign of improved cooperation, Chinese officials met earlier this month with their counterparts at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, which plans to open an office in the U.S. consulate in Guangzhou that will be dedicated to stemming the drug flow.SM