In response to U.S. urging, a United Nations commission is placing new regulatory controls on the trade of chemicals used to make illicit batches of fentanyl, the powerful opioid painkiller causing thousands of overdose deaths in North America.
The U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs voted to add the chemicals to a list of controlled substances in a U.N. convention that regulates narcotics internationally, Justice Tettey, chief of the laboratory and scientific section at the commission, said by phone from Vienna Thursday, where the vote took place.
The move means countries will be required to monitor the export of the chemicals, known by the acronyms NPP and ANPP, and inform recipient countries of any planned shipments. Countries will also be required to seize shipments that appear linked to illicit production of a narcotic drug.
A Wall Street Journal report in June detailed how a lack of trade regulation of the chemicals has helped foster the production of illicit fentanyl. The Journal 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.
In a letter to the U.N. secretary-general in October, then Secretary of State John Kerry urged the U.N. to list the chemicals as controlled substances.
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“The United States is currently experiencing an epidemic of overdose deaths linked to opioids including fentanyl-laced heroin,” Mr. Kerry wrote. A group of 15 U.S. senators also urged the U.N. to act.
At the same Vienna meeting, the U.N. commission also voted to add two fentanyl-like compounds often sold on the black market—U-47700 and butyrfentanyl—to lists of controlled substances in U.N. conventions. The Journal reported in November on how U-47700 was being churned out by clandestine labs and sold to U.S. opioid addicts, causing many overdose deaths.
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.
Mr. Tettey of the U.N. said the vote to control the substances was unanimous. The U.S. and Canada have been hardest hit by illicit fentanyl and fentanyl-like substances, he said, but there have also been overdose deaths in Europe and North Africa. “We’ve all seen the casualties, the fatalities,” he said. In past votes “you usually get countries coming up with views on why a substance can’t be scheduled. But [today’s vote] was unanimous,” he added.
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