For the past decade, Americans have watched their loved ones, friends, colleagues and themselves succumb to opioid overdose in record numbers, and fentanyl has been a primary driver. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there were approximately 47,600 fatal overdoses involving opioids, representing a large majority of the over 70,000 total overdose deaths that year. These numbers have been well documented, and ingrained in the conscience of public-health professionals and concerned Americans, alike.
What may be less well-known, however, is that China has been a silent yet dominant supplier of the drug. This week, however, after months and months of negotiations, diplomacy and maneuvering, it appears the country will be taking steps to rectify their culpability, announcing that they will be classifying the drug and its derivatives as a controlled substance.
That Must Have Been Some Steak…
The final decision to classify fentanyl as a controlled substance reportedly came from Chinese President Xi Jinping over a steak dinner with President Trump at the end of a conference in Buenos Aires. It was the culmination of nearly a year and a half of urging from the United States. In a climate where relations with China are tenuous at best on the economic front, the decision represents a clear victory for the Administration and, more importantly, a step forward in the opioid epidemic. Upon finalizing the deal, officials claimed that it will lead to an immediate and fairly rapid decrease in fentanyl-related deaths. Regulation took effect on May 1st.
The Story of Fentanyl So Far…
Up until the decision to enact these significant reforms, China regulated over two dozen types of fentanyl. The problem had been, however, that manufacturers seeking to find a way around these regulations made small and inconsequential changes to the molecular structure of their product in an effort to take advantage of loopholes in legislative language and export them before the government can assess the products for safety and medical use. Regulating all fentanyl-related drugs closes the loophole and, according to China’s National Narcotics Control Commission, “puts a wider array of substances under regulation. One of the most important elements of the regulations is that they account for all future chemical modifications.
Will It Work?
Up to this point, China has been the largest manufacturer and exporter of illegal fentanyl to the United States according to data from the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission; however, they insist that this is not the case. Chinese officials claim that they have already been incredibly proactive preventing illegal domestic and international trafficking, and that the product that does come into the country illegally is shipped by criminal organizations through evasive means. While many experts are unsure of China’s ability to actually implement and enforce these new regulations, the general consensus is that this is a clear and distinct step in the right direction, and a key development in the ongoing battle against opioid fatality in America