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KHAN: China, Fentanyl, And The New Opium War
Tablets believed to be laced with fentanyl are displayed at the Drug Enforcement Administration Northeast Regional Laboratory on October 8, 2019, in New York. - According to US government data, about 32,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses in 2018. That accounts for 46 percent of all fatal overdoses. Fentanyl, a powerful painkiller approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for a range of conditions, has been central to the American opioid crisis which began in the late 1990s. (Photo by Don Emmert / AFP)
DON EMMERT/AFP via Getty Images

For much of the 19th century, the British government bombarded China with illicit shipments of opium. In what became known as the Opium Wars, this passive sort of chemical warfare led to a generation of addicts and put an effective stranglehold on China’s economy at the time.

Now it seems China is resorting to similar tactics here in the U.S. with the synthetic drug Fentanyl — a drug 50 to 100 times stronger than heroin. In a piece entitled “China is Poisoning America with Fentanyl,” The Heritage Foundation reports that fentanyl is now the leading cause of overdose deaths here in the U.S. Overdoses claimed almost 100,000 lives in 2017 and 2018 and there seems to be no end in sight as the opioid epidemic expands beyond measure. For comparison, those numbers rival the peak of the AIDS crisis in 1995 according to the Rand Corporation.

Incredibly cheap to manufacture, the cost ratio of Fentanyl is staggering. An investment of a few thousand dollars can easily yield millions of dollars. It’s no wonder the Mexican Cartels have turned to Fentanyl according to The Washington Post:

[M]uch of the current supply of fentanyl pushing the broader opioid crisis to unprecedented heights is being smuggled into the country by the Sinaloa cartel and its rivals in Mexico…Black-market fentanyl and other synthetic opioids smuggled in from Mexico and China have become the fastest-growing and most lethal drug in America, far surpassing heroin and the prescription narcotics that often serve as gateway drugs.

A key point though is that the majority of fentanyl being produced originates in China. Endless factories abound with little to no oversight from the Chinese government. As a result, the drug is allowed to proliferate with little to no resistance. The Council on Foreign Relations reports that:

Most fentanyl coming to the United States is produced in China, U.S. officials say, and commonly transited through Mexico. Chinese authorities “have struggled to adequately regulate thousands of chemical and pharmaceutical facilities operating legally and illegally in the country,” says a 2017 report [PDF] issued by a congressionally mandated commission.

Whether or not this utter lack of regulations and oversight on the part of the Chinese government is a calculated ploy needs to be seriously considered now. Considering the stranglehold the Chinese government has on its population, it’s hard to imagine that the authoritarian regime has a sudden, profound inability to control the production of such a nefarious substance like fentanyl.

Certainly, the impact the opioid epidemic has had on us here in the U.S. has reached crisis levels. Like the aforementioned Opium Wars of the 19th century, the opioid epidemic here in the U.S. has had a palpable effect on our economy as well. The Council on Foreign Relations also reports that:

Opioids have also begun to take a toll on the economy. Testifying before the U.S. Senate in 2017, Janet Yellen, then chair of the Federal Reserve, linked the opioid epidemic to declining labor-force participation among “prime-age workers.” Princeton University economist Alan Krueger wrote that it could account for 20 percent of the decline in participation among men and 25 percent among women from 1999 to 2015.

Though our economy is hopelessly entangled with China for the foreseeable future, it’s high time we consider taking a meaningful stand against that regime’s marauding influence over us, especially as it pertains to illicit drugs like fentanyl. As a nation, we are increasingly at the mercy of the pernicious toll of addiction and it seems that the Chinese government is all too willing to contribute to this drug-fueled downward spiral.

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