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News > U.S.

Fentanyl is Solely US Problem, and It Blames China

  • Rally to draw attention to victims of fentanyl poisoning, Raleigh, NC, U.S., July 14, 2023.

    Rally to draw attention to victims of fentanyl poisoning, Raleigh, NC, U.S., July 14, 2023. | Photo: Twitter/ @SenatorLazzara

Published 18 July 2023

This drug has gradually become a menace to social security across the U.S., a country long plagued by opioid addiction and abuse.

The United States is the only country in the world that has been battling a grave opioid epidemic, and it is bent on blaming China. The abuse of opioids, particularly fentanyl, has overtaken gun violence and car accidents in recent years to become the leading cause of accidental deaths across the United States.


UN Report Sounds Alarm on Surging Global Drug Use

Analysts said that while there are mixed factors behind the crisis, Washington should face up to its own incompetence in fixing the prolonged woe largely "out of its own making," resulting from overprescription of legal pain medications, inadequate and piecemeal anti-drug plans corrupted by interest exchanges between drug companies and politicians.


Fentanyl and its derivatives sufentanil, alfentanil and remifentanil are all synthetic phenypiperidine drugs, which are synthetic opioid receptor agonists. A painkiller for countless patients, fentanyl has many side effects. The drug has gradually become a menace to social security across the United States, a society long plagued by opioid addiction and abuse.

Statistics by the Council on Foreign Relations in April indicated that opioids are the leading cause of U.S. overdose deaths, which have roughly quadrupled over the last ten years for which data is fully available. In 2021, the death toll surged to 80,411, more than 10 times the number of U.S. military service members killed in the post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There have been three waves of opioid abuse in U.S. society, with fentanyl being the "main character" of the third wave.

The first wave began around 1991 when some pharmaceutical companies invested heftily to fund experts and organizations to promote the harmlessness of opioids, lobbying physicians to prescribe them indiscriminately and pharmacies to sell them aggressively.

On one hand, this practice led to the formation of a "painkilling culture" in American society, in which people were accustomed to using painkillers as a symptomatic but not a curative way of coping with illnesses. On the other hand, it led to a sharp increase in the prescription of opioids then, and the number of deaths caused by opioids rose sharply.

The most typical example is OxyContin, a drug developed by U.S. pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma. From 1999 to 2017, a total of 200,000 Americans died from overdoses related to OxyContin and other prescription opioids. Ultimately, Purdue Pharma was sued.

The second wave started around 2010. As opioid pills became more difficult to obtain consistently both by prescription and on the street, drug users, especially young and new users, transitioned to heroin.

The grip of this insidious drug was fueled by its potence, accessibility and affordability. From 2002 to 2013, heroin-related overdose deaths surged by 286 percent. A 2013 study showed about 80 percent of heroin users reported their previous addiction to prescription opioids. After fentanyl entered the market, its ubiquity meant many unsuspecting users risk being killed by the drugs.

The third wave is mainly driven by synthetic opioids, primarily illicitly manufactured fentanyl. Fentanyl, up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, became the new cash cow of the illicit drug industry.

Drug dealers mix cheaper fentanyl with heroin or counterfeit pills to boost profit and cut transportation risks, which means many patients developed fentanyl use disorder without the slightest knowledge. The consequence? An alarming surge of fentanyl-related overdose deaths.

Each wave of the drug overdose epidemic is driven by cheaper and more potent substances. The research community is warning that Wave Four is characterized by fentanyl overdose coupled with mental health struggles.

More alarmingly, with fentanyl use spiraling upward, victims of opioids are changing. Across the United States, the drug kills disproportionately, with Black people suffering a higher rate of deaths than Whites, and those aged below 45 hit the hardest.


Now the epidemic is wreaking havoc on the U.S. economy and workforce, but Washington, though fully aware of it, seemed at its wits' end over how to fix it fundamentally, if not uninterested.

Without investing sufficient resources in helping patients, the U.S. government left hundreds of thousands of citizens at the mercy of new and more drugs, condemned to endure recurring tragedies.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 107,375 people in the United States died of drug overdoses and drug poisonings in the 12-month period ending in January 2022, with a staggering 67 percent of them involving synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

"This is the price of liberalism. Society needs rules and regulations and they need to be enforced," said a British netizen by the name of BugKhan from Bradford.

In April, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) questioned the U.S. strategy against the fentanyl crisis, saying it was relying on "palliatives" instead of tackling the root of the problem.

Behind a botched response from the previous U.S. administrations and the incumbent Biden administration is a sophisticated institutional fabric which has long frayed efforts to tackle the roots of social problems.

First, U.S. politicians knuckle under money politics. Sizable political donations from pharmaceutical companies require them to turn a blind eye when formulating control policies for related drugs. Ironically, the United States, a major chemical raw material country, has not yet permanently scheduled fentanyl-related substances.

By contrast, China took the lead in including the entire category of fentanyl-related substances in a controlled regulatory list as early as in May 2019, a step conducive to preventing illicit manufacturing, trafficking and abuse of the substance.

As the British newspaper the Guardian reported in 2017, pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. spent far more than any other industries to influence politicians. "Drugmakers have poured close to 2.5 billion U.S. dollars into lobbying and funding members of Congress over the past decade."

Besides, nine out of 10 members of the House of Representatives and all but three of 100 senators have "taken campaign contributions from pharmaceutical companies seeking to affect legislation on everything from the cost of drugs to how new medicines are approved."

Moreover, medical representatives, who play a very important role in the U.S. medical system, lobby doctors to prescribe medicines by means of lecturing and funding, giving rise to more addictions.

Second, political polarization hinders drug control. While both parties admit that they need to tackle fentanyl abuse as the problem gets increasingly out of control in the United States, they have been stumbling each other and stalling progress.

In May, the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives approved the Halt All Lethal Trafficking of Fentanyl Act in an 289-133 vote that saw 132 Democrats oppose the bill even though the White House signaled support for it.

Drug control requires large funding and a detailed plan. No progress in the anti-drug war that began in the 1970s was made as the two parties have held each other back. The situation worsened as more fentanyl-related overdose deaths were registered in the United States.

American politicians are well aware that this fentanyl crisis was triggered by various factors including domestic politics, economy and social divisions. It did not develop overnight, nor can it be resolved overnight.

However, Washington finds it much easier to blame China for its own inadequate supervision on fentanyl when the problem is in essence demand-driven and a product of U.S. institutional failure.

The United States needs to reflect on itself, strengthen regulation and control of prescription drugs at home, step up public awareness campaigns about the harm of narcotics, and reduce domestic demand for drugs, instead of smearing and discrediting other countries, as such irresponsible acts do no good to global anti-drug efforts. Nor can they help the United States fix the intractable scourge at home.

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