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China’s Ban of Carfentanil Could Be a ‘Game Changer’ in Opioid Epidemic

China's Ban of Carfentanil Could Be a 'Game Changer' in Opioid Epidemic

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Author: Shernide Delva

China just added the deadly elephant tranquilizer carfentanil, along with three synthetic opioids, to its list of controlled substances effective March 1. The move closes a major loophole in the regulation of the incredibly lethal substance. Carfentanil has been used as a chemical weapon and described as a terrorist threat. Lately, certain batches of heroin have been laced with carfentanil increasing the amounts of overdose deaths nationwide.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration called China’s action a potential “game-changer.”  They stated that the ban of the deadly tranquilizer is likely to reduce the amount of overdoses and deaths among unsuspecting drug users in North America. After China controlled 116 synthetic drugs in October 2015, seizures in the United States of compounds on that list plunged.

“It’s a substantial step in the fight against opioids here in the United States,” said Russell Baer, a DEA special agent in Washington. “We’re persuaded it will have a definite impact.”

China is a major source country for opioids like carfentanil. Last summer, carfentanil began to appear in the North American Drug supply. Dealers cut fentanyl into heroin and other drugs to boost profit margins. When drug users take heroin, they overdose on the strength of the other opioids leading into an overdose death. Fentanyl is 50 times more powerful than heroin, and carfentanil is 100 times stronger than fentanyl.  When these drugs are slipped into batches of heroin, it is incredibly fatal.

Chinese drug enforcement authorities have described the synthetic drug threat as a “worldwide problem” and urged “all countries to strengthen the control of new psychoactive substances and work on decreasing demand.” Beijing already has taken a stance controlling chemicals like fentanyl that are not widely abused domestically.

China said it is also placing carfentanil less-potent cousins furanyl fentanyl, acryl fentanyl and valeryl fentanyl under control.  All of these substances are prevalent in the U.S. drug supply Baer said. The DEA confirmed more than 400 seizures of carfentanil along eight U.S. states from July through October. Ohio was hit the hardest.

In an effort to combat the excessive amount of carfentanil exposure, China began evaluating whether to add carfentanil and three other fentanyls to its list of controlled substances. It was determined by the Associated Press that 12 Chinese companies were identified as exporting carfentanil around the world for a few thousand dollars a kilogram (2.2 pounds), no questions asks. As a result, when China went to ban the substance, the process was shortened significantly. Instead of taking nine months, it took just four.

The DEA and U.S State Department have pressed China to make carfentanil a controlled substance even though Beijing has stated there is a lack of evidence to support that China is the top source of fentanyls. Still, the two countries have been deepening cooperation with the United States as the opioid epidemic intensified.

The opioid demand in the United States is driving a new class of deadly synthetic drugs. Chemists are now trying to stay one step ahead of new rules and bans like this one. As soon as one substance is banned, other substances enter the market. For example, when Beijing tightened its focus on fentanyls last year, the AP documented how Chinese Vendors suddenly began to market alternative opioids, like U-47700.

“We don’t think their scheduling actions will end with just these four,” Baer said.


The opioid epidemic is a global epidemic. It is affecting so many countries and there are connections made between China and the United States. The hope is that the ban of more opioids in China will prevent another overdose outbreak. If you are struggling with addiction, do not wait for it to progress to an overdose. Do not wait. Call now.

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