China’s Online Opioid Market Reaches Miami

During his recent trip to China, President Donald J. Trump asked President Xi Jinping to “do something” about the United State’s opioid epidemic, which has been declared a public health emergency. China has become the world’s top manufacturer and exporter of synthetic drugs over the past half-decade. Now, China is being accused of flooding the synesthetic pain medication, fentanyl, which is 30 to 50 times stronger than heroin, into the American drug market through online drug bazaars, according to the New York Times.

Although China has vowed to work with the United States to fight the opioid crisis, the ease of buying fentanyl on the web suggests this market will continue to boom. According to the same article published in the New York Times, almost 100 Chinese companies sell fentanyl to anyone with a bank account and a shipping address through Weiku.com, which is based in Hangzhou.

Experts say it will be difficult to shut down websites such as Weiku.com because of China’s lax regulation of chemical companies. A management consultant for the chemical industry in China, Kai Pflug, told the New York Times that many fentanyl producers label their products as industrial rather than pharmaceutical, allowing them to evade detection from the government. Other producers simply tweak their formulas to bypass new bans or disguise existing products that are already prohibited.

Most of China’s fentanyl is being shipped directly or smuggled into to the United States. Upon arrival, fentanyl is often mixed with heroin, oxycodone or counterfeit prescription pills. This has led to a drastic increase in accidental overdoses across the country.

In Miami, fentanyl-related deaths are ravaging the city’s poorest communities. According to Assistant Miami Fire Chief Pete Gomez in an article by Business Insider, the fire department has seen a considerable increase in poly-drug (typically heroin and fentanyl) overdoses in the past year. This testimony concurs with the Miami medical examiner’s report that, in 2016, nearly 300 overdoses in Miami-Dade County involved fentanyl.

What’s truly chilling about fentanyl’s presence in the Magic City is its potency. This June, 10-year-old Alton Banks died after visiting a pool in Overtown, where he was accidently exposed to tiny amounts of fentanyl.

“It could have been [on] a towel at the pool. We just don’t know,” said Katherine Fernandez Rundle, Miami-Dade state attorney, to Business Insider.

To combat this epidemic, the Florida Legislature passed a law in October to punish dealers caught with four grams or more of fentanyl. But until the United States and China get a handle on Chinese chemical companies’ exploitation of weak regulations, Miami will continue to see a rise in fentanyl-related deaths.

As Pflug puts it in his interview with the New York Times, “As long as, in China, you can produce chemicals without serious supervision, the problem will persist.”

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