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Fentanyl rises to fame in China overnight after Xi-Trump agreement over its ban
President Trump signing a memorandum in October after remarks at the White House directing the Department of Health and Human Services to declare the opioid crisis a public health emergency. Photo: The New York Times
Fentanyl has become a hot topic on Chinese social media all of a sudden. Previously, most Chinese people knew little about the medicine and it certainly has never been under any spotlight. After the much-anticipated dinner meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump in Buenos Aires reached an agreement to have China designate fentanyl a “controlled substance”, the formerly obscure drug instantly triggered public interest, with some netizens even taunting that the US has just waged a modern-day ‘opium war’.

Fentanyl is known to be a magic drug, which is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin. So, besides being used as a wonderful pain medication, it’s also made illegally as a recreational drug, often mixed with heroin or cocaine.

Meanwhile, the problem of opioid abuse has long cast a shadow over the US society. As a major opioid, since the 1990s, fentanyl-type substances have made considerably large groups of Americans including even minors develop drug addiction. Donald Trump, in his presidential campaign, had pledged to solve the problem. On March 29, 2017, he signed an executive order to establish a commission on combating drug addiction and what’s called “Opioid Crisis” in the country.

Now, based on a statement by China’s foreign ministry, the two countries have agreed to strengthen cooperation on law enforcement and narcotics control. In a White House statement, the new designation for fentanyl means that people in China who illegally sell the drug to the US “will be subject to China’s maximum penalty under law.” The move is hailed by the US government as a "wonderful humanitarian gesture".

However, right before agreement, US President Donald Trump had blamed China for America’s opioid epidemic. He had lashed out at China for being what he says the main source of the “flood of cheap and deadly fentanyl” into the US.

"It is outrageous that Poisonous Synthetic Heroin Fentanyl comes pouring into the U.S. Postal System from China. We can, and must, END THIS NOW! The Senate should pass the STOP ACT -- and firmly STOP this poison from killing our children and destroying our country. No more delay!" he tweet this August.

Several days before the two leaders’ meeting on the sidelines of G20, the US Congress issued a report, accusing China of failing to take necessary measures to prevent illegal fentanyl-type substances from flowing into the US. It’s noted that American users could easily purchase the drug online from China.

On the same day, Geng Shuang, the spokesman of China’s foreign ministry, said that most of the psychoactive substances were born in the labs of developed countries. “Although the US has repeatedly accused China of being the main source of fentanyl into the US, it never provides any specific data or solid proof for the claims. And notification of related intelligence is also limited,” Geng said, noting many factors have led to rampant fentanyl abuse in the US, and the country’s government could always do a better job in reducing demand.

After the two presidents met in Buenos Aires, China’s foreign ministry announced China has "decided to schedule the entire category of fentanyl-type substances as controlled substances, and start the process of revising relevant laws and regulations."

A specialist was quoted by state-run Chinese media as saying that under the new agreement, all chemical compounds with similar structures of fentanyl-type substances are now classified as “controlled”, which would entail putting a large amount of human and material resources to address technical and legal issues.

After fentanyl rose to ‘fame’ overnight in China, there has been ‘poorly informed’ netizens and even opinion leaders on Chinese social media gloating over the ongoing opioid crisis in the US with some of them even suggesting that the Western countries that inflicted “Opium War” on Chinese people deserve what’s now happening to them.”

About the heated online debate about fentanyl, many observers called on the government to raise awareness among the public about the severity of opioid abuse worldwide. Among them, Zhang Yiwu, a Chinese professor with Peking University, asked for more reports on related problems to be delivered, so that Chinese public could realize drug abuse is not merely a problem for the US but also for many developing countries.

“Raising awareness and alertness to the issues would be of significance globally. We should now channel the surging public interest on the drug to the problem of opioid abuse,” he said.

It’s generally agreed that in China, fentanyl-type substance abuse has not yet become an issue.   


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