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How Will China’s Carfentanil Ban Affect the US?

Beginning March 1, China will place a ban on carfentanil, as well as three other fentanyl compounds. Carfentanil, which was produced for use as an elephant tranquilizer, is what is being called a “super-opioid.”

Carfentanil boasts a potency that is ten thousand times stronger than that of morphine. Even in the most miniscule amounts, carfentanil has proved to be deadly. It has been a major player in the recent influx of heroin overdoses across the US, which have nearly tripled in the past four years.

The Drug Enforcement Administration stated that 61 percent of drug poisoning deaths in 2014 were linked to opioids or heroin.

Officials have traced a large amount of the carfentanil found in the US to production facilities in China. Arriving via US Mail, shipments of fentanyl compounds originating from China have come overseas by the thousands. In a report from STAT News, it was revealed that Chinese suppliers were also supplying the machinery needed to produce these lethal drugs, allowing US dealers to produce pills in large quantities.

Over the past several years, carfentanil has contributed to deaths on a large scale. As China has declared carfentanil a controlled substance, the AP reports that similar action taken by China toward other drugs led to “plunging” rates of seizures by US officials.

In other words, the access to the drugs in question had reduced significantly.

The ban comes at a crucial point in the opioid epidemic. Officials nationwide are being cautioned by the DEA, due to the severe potency and irreversible damage caused by opioids such as carfentanil. During seizures, officials are often equipped with “suits of armor” to protect them from exposure to the drug, as even the smallest amount inhaled or absorbed can produce harrowing effects.

NPR’s Rob Schmitz reported on the situation from Shanghai, stating that, “The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says China’s regulation of the substance is a potential game changer that is likely to curb a surge of overdoses and deaths among users in the US.”

The issue hits particularly close to home in this case. As reported by the Sun Sentinel, local medical examiners estimated that opioid-related deaths in 2016 could exceed 800 in South Florida counties, pending official results of coroner reports.

Although the ban in China acts as a single step—one that will certainly not be a cure-all for the carfentanil crisis—it is a step that allows for progress to be made in the battle against addiction nationwide.

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