White House Steps Up Crackdown on International Opioid Trafficking

August 21, 2019 Updated: August 21, 2019

The White House released a series of private-sector advisories to help businesses protect themselves and their supply chains from inadvertent trafficking of fentanyl and synthetic opioids, in the latest crackdown by the Trump administration.

The new actions were announced on Aug. 21. Through the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the White House will boost information on how fentanyl traffickers exploit businesses and their supply chains to move and market drugs.

The same day, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network announced new actions to bring “additional financial pressure” on drug traffickers.

OFAC identified a few Chinese nationals, the Zheng Drug Trafficking Organization, and other Chinese entities as “significant foreign narcotics traffickers.”

The government’s four advisories aim to stem the production and sale of illicit fentanyl, fentanyl analogs, and other synthetic opioids. The advisories focus on the manufacturing, marketing, movement, and money of illicit fentanyl.

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid pain reliever, has been approved for treating severe pain for conditions such as late-stage cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The drug is “50 to 100” times more potent than morphine, according to the CDC.

Each day, more than 130 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The “economic burden” of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, according to the CDC.

The administration’s latest actions are a “big move” to help “mitigate and eradicate” drug traffickers taking advantage of private-sector platforms for their own profit, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters in an Aug. 21 conference call.

“Fentanyl traffickers have become increasingly sophisticated in leveraging otherwise honest elements of our market against us,” she said. “They are tapping into our manufacturing supply chain using the same factories that produce chemicals and pharmaceuticals to generate illicit fentanyl.”

Conway noted other efforts by the administration in tackling the opioid epidemic, such as the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act signed last year by Trump.

The bill aims at curbing the flow of opioids sent through the mail system, and increases the coordination between the U.S. Postal Service and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The measure was included in H.R. 6: the Support for Patients and Communities Act.

Most of the fentanyl in the country doesn’t originate in the United States, James Carroll, director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, told reporters.

“Evidence shows that almost all of the illicit fentanyl and other synthetic opioids causing American deaths are produced outside of the U.S.,” Carroll said. “The vast majority originate in China and then are trafficked across the nation’s borders.”

“Now, we are enlisting the support of the private sector in combating this problem, both domestically and internationally,” he said. “Make no mistake, we will use every resource at our disposal to find these traffickers, and once we have them in custody, we will apply the fullest measure of the law.”

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