Health

Officials in the Ohio Valley say recent increases in overdose deaths are largely due to fentanyl, and experts believe most of the powerful synthetic opioid comes from Chinese manufacturers.

The Chinese government announced last month it would classify all chemical variations of fentanyl as controlled substances. This closes a loophole that allowed some manufacturers to export the synthetic opioid without it being monitored for safety and medical use.

U.S.-China Business Council President Craig Allen welcomed that move but also expressed his desire for China to get tougher on fentanyl manufacturers.

At the recent National Governors Association’s U.S.-China Governors Collaboration Summit in Lexington, Kentucky, Allen called exports of the opioid from China the “dark side of e-commerce” between the two nations.

“It takes a commitment like the commitment to ban production of fentanyl to really address the issue,” he said. “But I would like to publicly express my thanks to the Chinese government to taking that step. It’s important.”

Some analysts and federal officials are skeptical of China’s ability to enforce the new restrictions due to a lack of personnel and resources.

Members of Congress have introduced the Fentanyl Sanctions Act, which would provide funding for government officials to publicly report on China’s enforcement progress, identify suspect foreign drug manufacturers, and allow the U.S. to go after financial assets of bad players.   

The issue hits home in the Ohio Valley, where fentanyl is driving some of the nation’s highest rates of overdose fatalities. A recent Washington Post investigation found Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia together had eight of the nation’s 10 counties with the highest annual rate of synthetic opioid deaths between 2013 and 2017.

image003Courtesy Washington Post

CDC death rate data.

Based at WOUB in Athens, OH, Aaron Payne covers economic transition and the addiction crisis.