'Painkiller epidemic': US targets Chinese firms for addiction that claimed 100,000 lives last year

WION Web Team
Washington, United States Published: Dec 16, 2021, 08:42 AM(IST)

Over 100,000 people died in America in the last year through April from overdoses of painkillers. This was initially attributed to how the pharmaceutical industry eagerly promoted their use, and how readily available they became to people in despair. Photograph:( Others )

Story highlights

President Biden's executive order allows the United States to target foreign drug makers directly rather than targeting cartels and other criminal organisations, which were historically the focus of US efforts

In an effort to curb the addiction epidemic that killed a record 100,000 Americans last year, the United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on Chinese painkiller makers.

Due to the increasing trend of people who are struggling with addiction, turning to cheaper drugs purchased online from overseas, President Joe Biden signed an executive order that makes it easier for the United States to target foreign drug traffickers.

In addition, Biden created the US Council on Transnational Organized Crime, which will coordinate between departments to combat transnational crime.

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President Biden's executive order allows the United States to target foreign drug makers directly rather than targeting cartels and other criminal organisations, which were historically the focus of US efforts.

According to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the action "will help disrupt the global supply chain and the financial networks that enable synthetic opioids and precursor chemicals to reach the United States,"

Treasury Department sanctions were imposed on four Chinese chemical companies and Chuen Fat Yip, whom it described as "one of the largest, if not the largest, producers of anabolic steroids in the world."

Additionally, the State Department is also offering a reward of up to $5 million for the arrest of the 68-year-old Chuen, believed to reside in Wuhan.

Earlier this month, US authorities seized bitcoin equivalent to $2.3 million traced to Chuen, Dallas prosecutors reported.

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As per federal charges filed in 2018, his company produced some $280 million worth of anabolic steroids over a five-year period and sent ingredients for the painkiller fentanyl around the world in small packages.

In addition, two Mexican criminal drug groups and one Brazilian group were sanctioned by the Treasury Department.

As a result of the sanctions, any assets that the groups and Chuen may have in the United States will be blocked and all transactions from the United States will be criminalised.

The online purchases of fake painkillers and smuggled drugs from overseas have caused an increase in painkiller addiction over the past few years.

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Over 100,000 people died in America in the year through April from overdoses of painkillers. This was initially attributed to how the pharmaceutical industry eagerly promoted their use, and how readily available they became to people in despair.

Despite increased production of fentanyl tablets exported into the United States by Mexican drug traffickers, a 2020 report said the majority of the material originated in China, some of which was sent directly to Mexico.

In the report, it was noted that India, known for its pharmaceutical industry, was also becoming a source of illicit painkillers.

"I think it's very simple that a lot of the precursors to synthetic opioids originate in China," a Biden administration official said of Wednesday's actions.

"And it was important for us to send a signal on that front."

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Following heavy pressure from the United States, China banned fentanyl in April 2019.

Chinese makers however quickly branched out into selling precursors to fentanyl. These precursors are not banned and frequently have legal uses, according to a report published last year by the Center for Advanced Defense Studies.

According to the report, Chinese sellers often sell the ingredients openly on the web, thereby securing credibility and customers.

(With inputs from agencies)

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