Photo Courtesy of DEA
A microscopic amount of fentanyl can be lethal.
By Forum Staff
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer on Sunday unveiled a first-ever fentanyl sanctions bill to, as New York’s senior senator put it, hold the Chinese government accountable for “frustrating inaction” on the trafficking of the illicit synthetic opioid pain reliever to the United States.
According to Schumer, the Fentanyl Sanctions Act would give law enforcement and the intelligence community more tools to combat the opioid epidemic, empower the President to call-out foreign traffickers and use economic sanctions, similar to the kinds used to respond to Vladimir Putin and Russian oligarchs, to cripple foreign labs and apply economic pressure to countries turning a blind eye to fentanyl drug production and trafficking.
The measure would direct the President to publically identify foreign traffickers of opioids on a semiannual basis and use a number of economic policy tools to debilitate their operations, including denying access to U.S. markets, blocking transactions with U.S. financial institutions and denying visas. The legislation broadly defines “traffickers of opioids” to hold accountable manufacturers in China and other countries who make fentanyl analogues and ship them illicitly to the U.S.; transnational criminal organizations like those in Mexico, who mix fentanyl with other drugs and smuggle them into the U.S.; and financial institutions that aide these entities, Schumer said.
While the sanctions are mandatory, the legislation would only allow the President to waive certain sanctions on state-owned enterprises if a country, like China, scheduled the entire category of fentanyl-type substances as controlled substances and initiated substantial regulatory reforms or substantially increased the number of prosecutions of opioid traffickers, Schumer noted. Additionally, the legislation establishes a Commission on Synthetic Opioid Trafficking to monitor U.S. efforts and report on how to combat the flow of synthetic opioids from China and Mexico. The legislation would also direct the President to commence diplomatic efforts to establish an international opioid control regime and provide new funding to law enforcement agencies to combat the trafficking of synthetic opioids. The legislation would authorize additional funding to departments and agencies to ensure robust collection of intelligence and enforcement of these new sanctions.
“For years, Chinese laboratories have been cooking-up formulas of death and freely trafficking lethal fentanyl across New York, and to many other places across America, where it is killing tens-of-thousands of people—and it has to stop,” the senator added. “When it comes to taking genuine action to address this crisis, China continues to kick the can down the road while American lives are kicked to the curb, enveloped by addiction or cut all too short by tragedy.”
According to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, insufficient regulation of synthetic opioid production in China continues to contribute to a flood of opioids into the United States. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that from June 2017 through June 2018 more than 48,000 people in the United States died from an opioid overdose, with synthetic opioids, excluding methadone, contributing to a record 31,500 overdose deaths. While drug overdose deaths from methadone, semi-synthetic opioids and heroin have decreased in recent months, overdose deaths synthetic opioids, especially fentanyl and its derivatives, have continued to increase, Schumer said.