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November 21, 2023


Credit: Thrifty Guardian

The powerful opioid fentanyl is responsible for 10s of 1000s of deaths per year, and President Joe Biden has set out a new plan to target the Fentanyl market in the US. But will it be enough?

A New Plan For Fentanyl Crisis

On Tuesday, President Biden held a meeting at the White House and announced a new approach to tackling the fentanyl crisis in the US, a crisis that has contributed to 75,000 deaths per year, which he called an “American tragedy.”

“Tough Stuff”

“Curbing this crisis is something every American can get behind,” Biden said during the meeting.  “It’s tough stuff. People are dying.”

Approaching From Every Angle

He set out plans to approach the crisis from “every angle,” which included extending access to addiction treatment and inducing “strong international cooperation” from countries who are involved with the production and exportation of the drug. 

Outside of US Control

Many aspects of the crisis are outside of the US’s direct control, as they take place directly within China and Mexico’s borders. Mexican cartels are responsible for manufacturing fentanyl and smuggling it into the States, whereas Chinese companies are responsible for producing both the opioid itself and the chemicals needed to produce it. 

One Week On

The White House meeting comes after Biden’s own meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping last week. During their discussions, Xi agreed to crack down on the exportation of chemicals used to produce fentanyl. 

Cooperation Is Critical

Biden described China’s cooperation as “critical” to stemming the “unabated” flow of lethal opioids into the US, via China and Mexico, a claim that has been supported by the US Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioids. 

Chinese Chemical Firms a Major Contributor

The commission released a report in February that showed that Chinese chemical firms are the  “primary sources” of chemicals for fentanyl production. And it is far from the first time the topic of China’s involvement in the opioid epidemic has been broached. 

Not Sufficiently Policed

US officials have previously warned that counter-narcotics policies in China were poorly carried out in provincial areas, where law enforcement had fewer resources and higher risks of corruption. They have questioned whether the Chinese central government in Beijing would successfully police these chemical firms in provincial areas.

Is It a Priority?

Former US trade official Thomas Bollyky said that while Beijing is capable of a full crack-down, officials had to wonder if it would ever be “a sufficient priority.” 

A Broader Geopolitical Issue

“Whether that’s the case really has to do with broader geopolitical dynamics,” Bollyky said. “China has been clear that China itself does not have a fentanyl problem. They see these issues as part of the broader strategic dialogue with the US.”

A Plan “Worth Commending”

One of the co-chairs of the US Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioids, David Trone, has welcomed the announcement calling it “worth commending.” His own son had passed away from a fentanyl overdose in 2016.

Republicans Turn South

Across the political spectrum, Biden’s opponents are more interested in targeting the issue south of the border. Republican presidential candidates have spoken out against drug trafficking from Mexico to the US, with GOP frontrunner Donald Trump promising to “inflict maximum damage” on cartels if he is voted in next year. 

Mexico Says No

Mexico’s former ambassador to the US, Arturo Sarukhán, has slammed the Republican accusations of Mexico’s role in the opioid crisis. “The fact that all roads to the Republican primary now lead to the border and the piñata-bashing of Mexico is a sign of the trouble ahead,” he said. “Particularly when Mexico has become the number one trading partner of the US.”

More Is Needed

Experts on the matter have said that restricting access to the drug is not enough to solve the core problems of the crisis. Professor Alexandra Punch, an expert on public health at Syracuse University, claimed that “safe consumption” and overdose prevention centers are key to addressing mass fentanyl addiction. 

It Won’t Solve Demand

“What we’re looking to solve is the mortality issue,” she said. “I don’t think we’re going to solve the demand issue, because people are just going to find something different to use.”