(The Center Square) Sixteen Republican state attorneys general are calling on Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken to take action against China and Mexico for their role in creating a fentanyl crisis in the U.S.
“China’s complete unwillingness to police the production and distribution of fentanyl precursors and Mexico’s subsequent failure to control illegal manufacturing of fentanyl using those precursors,” the attorneys general argue, poses a daily threat to Americans.
West Virginia and Arizona are leading the effort. Joining them are the attorneys general of Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, South Carolina, South Dakota and Texas. They say they’ve witnessed an “extraordinary tide of senseless death from fentanyl” in their states.
They’ve also acknowledged separately that the national opioid crisis can be attributed to drug addiction stemming from doctors prescribing opioids and the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture and advertise them, according to settlements AGs have reached with opioid manufacturers and distributors in multiple states. But they also attribute the production of illicit opioids plaguing the U.S. to Chinese and Mexican criminals whose governments are reportedly aiding them.
“The situation today is worse than ever before,” the AGs write, pointing to CDC overdose data. “Nearly all the recent national increases in drug overdose deaths are due to fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, with deaths from other drugs remaining flat or increasing only slightly. As more Chinese precursors feed a Mexican drug-manufacturing apparatus in which adulteration is more common, overdose can only be expected to rise further.”
In 2020, three out of every four drug deaths in West Virginia were attributed to fentanyl, a number nearly double that from 2019. Overdose deaths in Arizona increased 33% from February 2020 to April 2021, with synthetic opioids like fentanyl accounting for nearly two-thirds.
Fentanyl related deaths in Montana increased by 116% from 2019 to 2020. In Florida, fentanyl was the leading cause of drug deaths in 2020. Alaska saw a 287% increase in the number of fentanyl overdose deaths from 2019 to 2020.
These are only some of the drug death statistics among the 16 states represented in the letter. Nationally, fentanyl is the leading cause of death for adults between the ages of 18 and 45, according to an analysis of CDC data published by the nonprofit Families Against Fentanyl.
“China has turned a blind eye as its citizens have forged an international triangle of death with Mexico. Everyone now understands that Chinese drug producers are shipping fentanyl precursors to Mexico, where cartels make them into fentanyl and traffic it over land into the United States,” the AGs write.
After years of pressure by the U.S. federal government, China began taking action against illicit fentanyl manufacturing in its country in 2019, the AGs argue, pointing to reports published by the U.S. State Department. In 2019, after reaching an agreement with the Trump administration, “seizures of fentanyl directly shipped from China to the United States shrunk dramatically from over 128 kilograms seized in 2017 to less than half a kilogram in 2020.”
But since then, most fentanyl available in the U.S. has been trafficked from Mexico across the southern border where “seizures increased from approximately 1,187 kilograms in 2019 to approximately 2,939 kilograms in 2020,” according to a March 2021 Department of State report.
“Chinese chemical manufacturers are now making and sending the raw ingredients to make fentanyl to Mexican drug cartels, which are in turn making and trafficking fentanyl at an industrial scale,” the AGs write. “But in the face of this evolving and significant problem, the federal government has seemed content to stand by.”
China isn’t imposing strict enough enforcement actions on Chinese perpetrators involved, they argue, which is only part of the problem. The AGs cite a 2018 Government Accountability Office report that states, “China’s insufficient regulatory oversight of the precursor chemical industry, corruption among government and business officials, lower production costs, myriad transportation options, and illegal factories make it an ideal source for precursor chemicals intended for illicit drug production.”
Fentanyl and fentanyl-laced pills are being manufactured in Mexico and sent north through a network of drug and human smuggling operated by the cartels on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. Some of the AGs listed in the letter have sued the Biden administration for not enforcing federal immigration law, with Texas suing seven times.
Mexico must “also be pressured to take swift and forceful action against the cartels that are producing finished fentanyl and trafficking this poison across the border into our country,” the AGs argue. “The Mexican government’s negligence in permitting the erection of industrial scale manufacturing of fentanyl is inexcusable,” they write. “Seeking redress and correction of this cataclysmic failure of Mexico must immediately be elevated to the highest level of bilateral engagement with our Southern neighbor.”
Blinken’s office hasn’t yet replied to their letter. Last year, the White House made recommendations to Congress on how to reduce the supply and availability of fentanyl. In Biden’s fiscal 2022 budget proposal, $41 billion was allocated to national drug program agencies.