The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has found that a vast drug-distribution network that originates in China is feeding the deadly opioid fentanyl to the United States, Mexico and Canada.
The network trades not only in finished fentanyl, but related products that are subject to little or no regulation in China or elsewhere, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Some of these products are known as analogs, which are copies of fentanyl. Others include the chemical ingredients of fentanyl, as well as pill presses used to make the drug.
Fentanyl is an opioid legally prescribed for cancer treatment. It can be made illicitly, and is 25 to 50 times more potent than heroin.
Chemicals used to make fentanyl are unregulated in China, or by the United Nations agreements that police the global drug trade, the article notes. China prohibits the nonmedical sale of fentanyl and has added several fentanyl analogs to the list of controlled narcotics. But some Chinese companies continue to export illegal batches, according to U.S. officials.
Earlier this month, DEA Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg told the Senate Judiciary Committee synthetic drugs such as fentanyl pose an unprecedented threat for overdoses and deaths, especially among young people in the United States.
“The yearly market for illegal non-medical prescription pain relievers is over 11 million people, and if fentanyl is introduced into even a small portion of that overall market, there is a likelihood that overdoses will increase,” Rosenberg said in his testimony to the committee. “Fentanyl and fentanyl derivatives represent the deadly convergence of the synthetic drug threat and current national opioid epidemic.”
The Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office announced that toxicology tests concluded Prince died from an accidental fentanyl overdose. The office did not specify how the drug was taken, or if it was prescribed or illegally made.