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Credit Trump with curbing fentanyl flow from China

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, Guest Commentary • May 18, 2019 at 4:00 AM

Between 2016 and 2017, the number of Tennesseans who died from a fentanyl overdose increased 70 percent. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that can be 100 times stronger than opioid prescription pills, is the leading cause of opioid overdose deaths in our country.

China recently took the single most important step to stop the flow of deadly fentanyl into the United States by designating the drug as a controlled substance.

President Trump called this “a game changer.” And I agree – this will, undoubtedly, save thousands of American lives.

Let me tell you a story about how we got here.

Last October, I led a senior delegation of five senators and two members of the House of Representatives to Beijing to meet with Chinese leaders. At the urging of U.S. Ambassador to China, Terry Branstad, we made fentanyl and the opioid crisis the primary point of our visit.

We asked the Chinese officials with whom we met to control all forms of fentanyl, which will give Chinese law enforcement the green light to go after anyone in China who uses or produces fentanyl illegally or improperly. The Chinese officials were at first skeptical, but listened closely and committed to working with us on this public health crisis.

This action is important because, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), almost all fentanyl that comes to the United States illegally, in one way or the other, begins its production in China. And in 2017, more than half of opioid overdose deaths involved synthetic opioids such fentanyl.

When I returned from China, I urged President Trump to thank Chinese President Xi when they met at the G20 summit in Argentina for what China had already done to curb fentanyl production, and to ask the Chinese to continue working with us to stem the flow of fentanyl into the United States.

On April 4, Ambassador Brandstad wrote to me saying that China planned to classify all forms of fentanyl as a controlled substance – effective May 1, 2019 – and that the decision was a “direct result” of our congressional meetings in China last October.

President Trump deserves great credit for persuading China to make the selling of illegal fentanyl to the United States subject to the maximum penalty under Chinese law.

More Americans died last year from opioid overdoses than automobile accidents, making opioid overdoses the number one public health crisis in this country. The total number of deaths from fentanyl overdose was 28,000. DEA agents have told me that if they open a package and just a few grams of fentanyl escape into the air, they are almost overcome and have to leave the room. All it takes is a very small amount of fentanyl to kill you, which is one reason why we have seen such a spike in overdose deaths.

I learned a lot about the effects of fentanyl while working on our bipartisan opioids legislation last year, which included proposals from five different Senate committees, including the STOP Act to stop illegal drugs, like fentanyl, at the border. President Trump signed our legislation into law in October 2018, saying it was “the single largest bill to combat a drug crisis in the history of our country,” and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called it “landmark” legislation to fight the opioid crisis.

China’s decision to designate all forms of fentanyl as a controlled substance will save even more American lives, and I’m grateful to Chinese leaders for listening to our Congressional delegation and for President Trump and President Xi’s leadership in taking this action.

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