This month, Chinese and American officials are talking about new, combined efforts at combatting opioid trafficking. One spokesperson from China’s foreign ministry was quoted saying that the country is-
“…ready to work with the US to enhance our cooperation in this field.”
Back in August of 2017, we wrote about how China has been singled out by many in America as the main source of synthetic drugs like fentanyl getting into the country. Drug dealers online have been able to order shipments through websites hosted in China, making everyday package carriers into unknowing drug smugglers across the US. According to reports from the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), seizures of fentanyl arriving by mail have increased drastically in the last few years:
- In 2011, 0.09 kilograms of fentanyl were seized by mail
- In 2016 is rose to 37 kilograms
Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, had said he firmly believed that China would be teaming up with the United States in order to end the spread of fentanyl trafficking.
Now it seems those predictions are coming to fruition, as China has announced that it intends to work with the United States to fight illegal shipments of opioids. This comes following a congressional investigation that unearthed the secret to how opioid manufacturers have exploited inadequate safeguards in the U.S. Postal System.
So how will China and America team up?
Searching for Fentanyl Sales
One of the key elements of the issue is the way packages get into the United States. Recently, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs investigations subcommittee launched a probe that revealed a troubling reality. You can find information from the probe in a January 24, 2018 congressional report.
According to the report, an advanced electronic data system (AED) commonly used to identify suspicious packages only captured information on around a third of all international packages. So what does that add up to? Well, those numbers leave more than 318 million packages unscreened! That paves a very clear path for Chinese opioid manufacturers to ship lethal synthetic substances to individuals all across America.
The probe also provides details of just how easy acquiring fentanyl from Chinese manufacturers can actually be. Subcommittee staff told reporters that by simply conducting an internet search using the phrase “fentanyl for sale,” they found six “very responsive” sellers in China. Ultimately, investigators were able to identify:
- 500 online transactions involving fentanyl
- These transactions represent an estimated value of $776 million
- Can trace at least seven deaths from fentanyl in the United States to Chinese sales
To make matters worse, drug traffickers have been using each country’s own postal services against them. This major loop-hole in shipping has made a profound contribution to fentanyl trafficking.
Going Postal on Drug Traffickers
The investigation also reports that fentanyl distributors will push for investigators to pay for delivery through Express Mail Service (EMS). EMS is an international shipping method that utilizes each country’s own postal system to deliver packages. Part of the EMS network includes the U.S. Postal Service.
In an email to an investigator, one drug distributor wrote:
“Guaranteed delivery only via EMS, other shipping methods will not be guaranteed.”
Investigators claim that the EMS is the preferred method for shipping opioids into America. This is because the Postal Service failed to implement an AED system that would alert U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents about suspicious international packages. International fentanyl traffickers know how to manipulate and maneuver the postal systems. Those with the investigation also point out that surcharges are deterrents to send shipments through other delivery services such as:
This is due to the greater chance that packages will be detected. Sadly, the Senate report shows that it saw no significant improvement in collecting data on packages in 2017. However, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) said that it has made the collection of this electronic data a priority.
China and America Teaming Up
In a statement to the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee, Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman said that in 2016 nearly 60% of all overdose deaths in Ohio were related to fentanyl. Portman emphasizes the need for more action to stop the flow of fentanyl by stating,
“The vast majority of illegal fentanyl is purchased online from labs in China and then shipped to the United States through the mail. The federal government can, and must, act to shore up our defenses against this deadly drug and save lives.”
A USPS spokesperson said that the agency is working “…aggressively with law enforcement and key trading partners to stem the flow of illegal drugs entering the United States,”
A Customs and Border Protection spokesperson said it will “…continue to work with our government and private-sector partners to improve the efficiency of information sharing and operational coordination to address the challenges and threats…” of international narcotics smuggling.
We should note China still isn’t entirely sure that they are the major supplier of fentanyl to the US. In fact, Chinese officials have repeatedly pushed back against assessments like the one made by Senator Portman. In a press conference in December 2017, National Narcotics Control Commission official Yu Haibin said that there was-
“…little evidence showing China was the source of much of the chemicals used in the production of the powerful opioid fentanyl.”
However, it seems that China will be working toward a unified effort against fentanyl with America. Speaking on behalf of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, spokesperson Hua Chunying said that,
“Anti-drug coordination is one of the highlights of China-US law enforcement cooperation,”
Chinese officials are already working to curb sales of fentanyl and other synthetic drugs in their country. At the moment there may still be some indiscretions about China’s willingness to accept responsibility for the majority of fentanyl trafficking into America. Still, the fact that both countries have politicians advocating for cooperation against the common enemy might be a good indication of a more hopeful future in overcoming fentanyl.
If we are going to overcome the opioid epidemic, we will have to work together to face the issue at every level; whether we are taking on trafficking, breaking the stigma, or developing better opportunities for addiction treatment and recovery resources. Palm Healthcare Company is proud to work with people from all over America to help them overcome their own substance use. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now.
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For the last few years federal politicians, local officials, and addiction advocates have spoken a great deal about the critical condition of the opioid crisis in America. Just a few months ago President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency, and his administration had created a special White House Opioid Commission to do extensive research and community outreach to try and better understand the problem and offer possible solutions.
Now recent reports state that President Donald Trump is actually planning to cut the budget of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) just happens to be the top office responsible for coordinating the federal response to the opioid crisis. This plan is being noted as his administration’s second attempt to gut the ONDCP, so how would this change the current system?
What is the Plan?
So what does this mean? If President Trump were to go forward with this proposal, it would shift the office’s two main grant programs. These are:
- The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas grant
- The Drug Free Communities Act
According to POLITICO, multiple sources in the administration and others working with the government on the opioid crisis said those resources would then be given respectively to:
- The Justice Department
- Health and Human Services Department
According to a document from the Office of Management and Budget, this proposal would cut 95% of the ONDCP’s budget. Officials in President Trumps administration say that the approximately $340 million in grants will be administered by larger agencies. But the ONDCP will still serve as the White House’s drug policy shop. But the ONDCP will still be the main resource for President Trump for drug policy.
According to the proposal, President Trump and his administration believe these programs are just duplicates of other initiatives. This cut would also result in the ONDCP losing up to 33 employees. Skeptics say taking these resources leaves the policy office with little power or purpose.
Some Support President Trump Plan
Not everyone believes this is a bad idea. Some advocacy organizations are cautiously optimistic that changes to the ONDCP could actually end up being a good thing. One of them is the Drug Policy Alliance. They believe the opioid epidemic has continued to get worse under the ONDCP, and that maybe a shift in perspective is necessary to make a difference.
Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance states,
“The reality is that ONDCP is an agency in dire need of reform,”
Smith believes that the particular grant programs mentioned previously “are a phenomenal waste of money that contribute to the incarceration and stigmatization of drug users.”
They are also afraid President Trump would use a more powerful Drug Czar to aggressively treat drug abuse as a criminal justice issue rather than as a public health problem. If so, it might be a good idea to take the power of these grants out of the executive branch’s control.
Some believe the ONDCP won’t be particularly helpful for the future of drug policy due to some of the organizations part positions, such as denying medical use of marijuana or encouraging the expansion of workplace drug testing. There have been stories questioning the 24-year-old deputy chief of staff President Trump appointed to head the ONDCP. Some see having an individual with no drug policy experience running this important agency as an indication of inconsistnecy.
Supporters of moving the grants and cutting the ONDCP say it would decrease overlap since the DOJ already works on drug trafficking and HHS also has substance use prevention. This may not be the worst assumption either, considering that President Trump and his administration have touted a law-and-order approach that has many concerned about further stigmatizing and punishing those in need of help.
An OMB spokesperson stated,
“DOJ and HHS are both major grant management organizations that can look holistically at allocations across law enforcement and drug prevention and treatment resources.”
So some are hopeful it could just put the grants under a different roof. But critics say these programs are working, and it is hazardous to try and dramatically restructure them at such a desperate time.
Other Republicans Rebuke the Plan
Health policy experts, lawmakers, and even fellow Republicans are unhappy with this latest proposal. Some even say this is just one example of a series of actions showing that President Trump’s administration isn’t serious about addressing the opioid epidemic.
Last year the White House Office of Management and Budget proposed completely cutting these grants. However, that proposal was met with intense resistance from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers. Now, health experts and officials from both sides are speaking out against this plan. Regina LaBelle, who served as ONDCP Chief of Staff during the Obama administration, states:
“I’m baffled at the idea of cutting the office or reducing it significantly and taking away its programs in the middle of an epidemic,”
Many are already expecting lawmakers to push back again against this plan from President Trump.
Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito from West Virginia, a state ravaged by opioids, told POLITICO she will “resist that move”. Capito also says she believes the grants should be kept at ONDCP. This would keep them within the executive branch and under the president’s purview.
Republican Senator Rob Portman from Ohio, another state that has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic, said he also plans to fight back against the proposed cuts. Portman says the anti-drug programs the administration wants to cut have done an immense amount of good in Ohio.
Going Against Opioid Commission
President Trump established the White House Opioid Commission to make recommendations on addressing the opioid crisis. Now even advisors on this panel are saying this new move goes against the opioid commission’s recommendations.
Former Representative Patrick Kennedy, a member of the opioid advisory commission, said the panel advised President Trump to fortify the ONDCP, not defund it. The opioid commission had also endorsed both of these grants as crucial to overall response efforts. Kennedy went on to say,
“It guts the two main purposes of ONDCP… It really undermines the mission.”
So there are those that think changing the ONDCP could be a necessary sacrifice to make progress. However, others are concerned that it is not the right move, and definitely not the right time.
We should note that the proposal from President Trump is subject to change. There is still more time to learn about how moving money from the Office of National Drug Control Policy could impact the governments work against the opioid crisis. Could this change refine the process of accessing these grants? Or could it cripple an important agency for fighting addiction during of one of the country’s worst drug outbreaks? Hopefully, these changes can be managed in a way that creates new opportunities instead of removing them.
Providing support and life-saving resources is vital to overcoming addiction. Every day people are struggling with drug or alcohol use disorders, and some of them never find the help they need. Safe and effective addiction treatment is one of the best tools we have. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now. We want to help.
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