China promised to stop fentanyl traffickers, Congress must hold them to itOriginally published by The Hill.
The opioid epidemic is ravaging American communities. Fentanyl and other opioids are killing 50,000 Americans every year, making this public health epidemic more lethal than car crashes and HIV at their peaks. The spike in overdose deaths is so severe that for the first time since the Second World War, Americans have seen their life expectancy decline for three consecutive years. In another grim sign of the times, the number of people in line for organ donations is shrinking because so many young, otherwise healthy Americans have died from overdoses.
Sadly, these facts are probably unsurprising--everyone seems to know a family member, friend or neighbor who has been personally affected by opioid addiction.
But what might be surprising is that much of America’s opioid problem begins thousands of miles away. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50 times more powerful than heroin, and it is the leading cause of American overdose deaths. An estimated 80 percent of the fentanyl seized on our streets originates in China.
In early April, we were pleased to see China’s government finally announce that it would ban all forms of fentanyl and go after Chinese fentanyl producers. Although this is a step in the right direction, their promises need to be met with concrete action.
Disturbingly, one of the Chinese leaders who made the promise has simultaneously downplayed his own culpability. At a recent summit on fentanyl, Liu Yuejin, China’s Vice Commissioner of the National Narcotics Control Commission blamed the United States and questioned our values, saying, “If the United States truly wants to resolve its fentanyl abuse problem, it needs to strengthen its domestic work.”
That’s a cop-out: China is fanning the flames of this crisis by flooding American streets with cheap fentanyl. It is notable that in a country where little goes unnoticed by the state security apparatus, China has an especially poor record of taking on fentanyl producers. Between 2015 and 2016, American authorities intercepted 1,072 shipments of Chinese fentanyl before they could reach our streets. In the same time period, China stopped just four.
So, while we welcome China’s recent announcement, we believe it is also time for Congress to hold Beijing to account by attacking the sources of fentanyl and sanctioning its producers. That’s why we introduced The Fentanyl Sanctions Act.
Our bipartisan bill would impose sanctions on international drug manufacturers who knowingly send synthetic opioids to drug traffickers and other criminal operations. It would also equip American law enforcement officials with the funds they need to intercept fentanyl and authorize $600 million to counter the trafficking of opioids across the globe. Finally, this legislation would rally government around this mission by creating a new federal commission to combat synthetic opioid trafficking including the administrator of the Drug Enforcement Agency, secretary of Homeland Security, secretary of Defense, secretary of the Treasury and the secretary of State.
This legislation is also necessary because China may have an incentive not to act: so long as Chinese fentanyl remains a problem in America, China can use fentanyl production as a bargaining chip in any trade deal it negotiates with the United States.
Diplomatic rhetoric out of Beijing frequently invokes phrases like ‘mutual respect’ and ‘promoting peace and stability.’ We ask China’s leaders to truly commit to these principles by helping us eliminate the production and flow of this poisonous plague. Beijing should know that this issue is a top priority across both parties. That is why Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) introduced companion legislation in the Senate.
While we are under no illusion that this bill will put an end to all opioid overdose deaths in America, it is a start. Congress and the president should also target the supply of prescription opioids and hold bad actors in America like Perdue Pharma and Rochester Drug Cooperative accountable for flooding communities with opioid prescriptions, too. Congress must fund more addiction treatment programs; more Americans should carry naloxone which can reverse the effects of an overdose; and the federal government should help states and local governments equip law enforcement with the resources they need to stop other illegal drugs like heroin from reaching our communities.
We hope by working together on this bill, we can set an example for other members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to come together and pass this and a series of policies to crack down on the deadly flow of opioids entering our country.
American lives are at stake.