April 13, 2024

Illegally made Fentanyl has been linked to tens of thousands of deaths in the US alone.

New Delhi:

United States President Joe Biden said Wednesday China will take steps to tackle the flow of fentanyl – a synthetic opioid responsible for the death of over 70,000 people last year – into the country.

Mr Biden met China’s Xi Jinping on the side-lines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco for a “candid and in-depth” talk on restarting high-level military communication and setting up an intergovernmental dialogue on Artificial Intelligence, and a discussion on Taiwan.

The choice of location for the Biden-Xi talks is significant; there have been more than 600 opioid-related deaths (most linked to fentanyl) in San Francisco in 2023 so far, compared to 647 across the whole of 2022. Across the US, tens of thousands die annually from an overdose of synthetic opioids.

US-China Fentanyl Agreement

Mr Biden said Beijing had agreed to stem the export of items related to the drug’s production. “It is going to save lives,” he told reporters, and said he appreciated China’s “commitment” in the issue.

Under the new agreement, China will go after companies that make precursors – items needed to produce the opioid – a senior American official said. However, in a caveat underlining the distrust between the two sides, he said the US will “trust but verify” China’s actions against the drug.

READ | Biden Calls Xi Jinping “Dictator” After Striking Fentanyl Deal

Chinese companies are a source of the opioid and chemicals which can be combined to make it.

A White House statement after the meeting highlighted joint efforts to “combat global illicit drug manufacturing and trafficking (including fentanyl)… and establishment of a working group for ongoing communication and law enforcement coordination on counter-narcotics issues”.

The White House also said Mr Biden stressed the need to counter the evolving threat of illicit synthetic drugs like fentanyl, and to fight supply of precursor chemicals and pills to cartels in the US.

What Is Fentanyl?

Pharmaceutical fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more so than heroin, and was approved by the US’ Food and Drug Administration as an analgesic (pain relief) in 1998.

In its prescription form, it is known by names like Actiq, Duragesic, and Sublimaze. The version linked to overdose deaths is an illegally made version. On the street it is also called China Girl and China Town. 

Most illicit fentanyl is made in labs outside the United States and smuggled across the Mexico border.

Fentanyl, like other opioid analgesics, leads to euphoria, pain relief, sedation, confusion, drowsiness, nausea, and vomiting, as well as urinary retention, pupillary constriction, and respiratory depression.

How Is It Consumed?

In prescription settings it can be administered as an injection, a patch to put on the skin or via pills.

Fentanyl for illegal consumption is available both as a liquid and powder. In the latter form, it can be administered via nasal sprays or eye drops, or even dropped into small candles. It is also sold as pills.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has labelled fentanyl and fentanyl-laced drugs “extremely dangerous”, warning many may even be unaware their drugs are laced with it.

Signs Of Overdose

According to the CDC, some of the signs of a fentanyl overdose are constricted pupils, weak or slow breathing, choking or gurgling sounds, a limp body and discoloured or cold, or clammy, skin.

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