The U.S. has asked the United Nations to help curb the trade of chemicals used to make illicit batches of fentanyl, a powerful opioid painkiller causing thousands of overdose deaths nationwide.
In a document sent to the U.N. Secretary-General in recent days, Washington asked that two fentanyl ingredients be added to a list of controlled substances in a U.N. convention that regulates narcotics internationally, according to an advisory body to the U.N.
A group of 15 U.S. senators on Thursday also sent a letter to the advisory body recommending the chemicals be classified as controlled substances, saying it could be critical to “savings lives in the United States.”
A Wall Street Journal article in June detailed how a lack of trade regulation of the chemicals has helped foster the production of illicit fentanyl. The article detailed how Chinese firms have sent the chemicals to traffickers in Mexico, which have used them to manufacture fentanyl and smuggle it to the U.S.
Fentanyl has similar euphoric effects as heroin, but is up to 50 times as potent and is cheaper and easier to produce. The drug is increasingly being mixed into the heroin supply, often without buyers’ knowledge.
It is also being pressed into counterfeit pills that are passed off on the black market as prescription painkillers.
The International Narcotics Control Board, the Vienna-based U.N. advisory body, confirmed that the U.S. sent the request to the Secretary-General, triggering a formal review process. The INCB will handle the review and advise the U.N. on how to proceed. Barbara Remberg, senior technical adviser at the INCB, said Washington sent the request about a week ago.
The U.N. Secretary-General’s office and the U.S. State Department didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
‘The surge in fentanyl has opened an alarming new chapter in the opioid crisis. Law enforcement and treatment providers are overwhelmed and cannot confront this problem alone.’
—Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D., N.H.)
The two fentanyl ingredients, known by the acronyms NPP and ANPP, aren’t listed as controlled substances in the 1988 U.N. Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. If they were, countries would be required to monitor their export and inform recipient countries of any planned shipments. Countries would also be required to seize shipments that appeared linked to illicit production of a narcotic drug.
Experts say they know of no other uses for the chemicals other than making fentanyl.
“We believe that the convention could be a critical tool in regulating the sale and export of NPP and ANPP,” the senator group wrote in their letter to the INCB. While U.S. law already controls the trade or import of the chemicals, “without collective international action it will be difficult” to “slow illicit manufacturing of fentanyl,” they wrote.
“The surge in fentanyl has opened an alarming new chapter in the opioid crisis. Law enforcement and treatment providers are overwhelmed and cannot confront this problem alone,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D., N.H.), who signed the letter, said by email Friday. “To make a difference in small towns and cities like in New Hampshire, we need to start working with partner nations in the international community to stem the influx of fentanyl.”
In addition to fentanyl ingredients, Chinese suppliers have also sent large quantities of finished fentanyl and compounds similar to fentanyl to the U.S., Mexico and Canada, where they are sold on the black market, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Last month, the Obama administration announced “enhanced measures” it will take with China to try to curb the illicit fentanyl trade.
Write to Jeanne Whalen at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tags: America’s Opioid Crisis, ANPP, Canada, China, Chinese firms, fentanyl, groups in China, heroin, INCB, International Narcotics Control Board, Mexico, mixed into the heroin supply, NPP, Obama Administration, opioid, Overdose deaths, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, U. S., U.N., U.N. convention that regulates narcotics internationally, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, United Nations