China is primary foreign source of chemical building blocks used to make illicit fentanyl

Washington (May 17, 2017) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, yesterday hosted Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg at a briefing for a bipartisan group of senators on recent interactions with the Chinese government in addressing the illicit fentanyl crisis in America. Illicit fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times more powerful than morphine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. death rate of synthetic opioids other than methadone, which includes fentanyl, increased by 72.2 percent from 2014-2015, resulting in more than 9,500 deaths in 2015. Massachusetts ranks 2nd, per capita, in synthetic opioid deaths, which include fentanyl. According to the latest data from the Florida Medical Examiners Commission, the number of deaths caused by fentanyl in Florida in the first half of 2016 increased by 139 percent compared with the first half of 2015.


According to Acting Administrator Rosenberg, China has been cooperative with the United States, recently placing controls on fentanyl analogs – synthetic opioids whose chemical structure is similar to fentanyl. In particular, the DEA reported that communication over the last few months between China and the United States has involved the sharing of intelligence information surrounding potential targets of interest involved in fentanyl distribution networks, as well as an open exchange of scientific information between the DEA and relevant Chinese officials. The briefing also addressed challenges that remain, including raising the issue of illicit fentanyl to the highest levels of the Chinese government.


Also attending the briefing were Senators Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.).


“Stopping the trafficking of fentanyl into the United States from China is as high a foreign policy priority as trade, currency manipulation and intellectual property,” said Senator Markey. “We need China to keep its promises to combat the flow of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids into the United States, and we must fully utilize our law enforcement and diplomatic resources, in partnership with our international partners, to help stop fentanyl’s deadly impact. I thank the DEA for their efforts and look forward to continuing to work with them to end this crisis.”


“I appreciate the opportunity to meet with the DEA’s Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg to discuss how we can work together to turn the tide against illicit opioids in our communities, including fentanyl,” said Senator Rubio. “As we continue to grapple with overdoses in Florida, I am committed to confronting this issue on all fronts, including through our relationships with China and Mexico, and through cooperation with medical experts, law enforcement officials, and treatment and recovery specialists.  We must ensure our first responders are equipped to protect themselves and others when dealing with these lethal substances.”


Senators Markey and Rubio recently introduced the INTERDICT Act, legislation that would provide Customs and Border Protection the latest in chemical screening devices and scientific support to detect and intercept fentanyl and other synthetic opioids coming in from overseas. In March the Senate passed a resolution introduced by Senators Markey and Rubio that calls for international cooperation to address the trafficking of illicit fentanyl into the United States.