Fentanyl ‘loopholes’ target of Chinese crackdown on drug’s exporters

by - 9 min read

Fentanyl ‘loopholes’ target of Chinese crackdown on drug’s exporters

by - 9 min read

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TODAY:

  • Starting May 1, all fentanyl analogs will be classified as controlled substances in China.
  • Soaked your iPhone? Apple may tell you your data is gone for good, but some are challenging that.
  • A “green rush” into cannabis by California wine growers is a cautionary tale for the Canadian industry.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

Fentanyl trade

China is promising to crack down on the manufacture of fentanyl and related drugs with a change to government regulations, and tougher rules around drug exports.

Starting May 1, all fentanyl analogs will be classified as controlled substances in China. The move is designed to stop unscrupulous chemists from slightly altering the formula for the potent synthetic opioid and creating new, technically legal forms of the deadly drug.

“We firmly believe that listing the entire class of fentanyl substances will completely block the loopholes that enable lawbreakers to evade punishment by simply modifying one or several atoms, functional groups or other groups,” Liu Yuejin, vice-commissioner of China’s National Narcotics Control Commission, told reporters in Beijing Monday morning.

“It will effectively prevent the massive abuse of fentanyl substances and illegal drug trafficking and smuggling activities, and contribute to global drug control.”

Liu Yuejin, vice-commissioner of China’s National Narcotics Control Commission, speaks during a press conference in Beijing on Monday, announcing that all fentanyl-related drugs would become controlled substances effective May 1. It’s a step U.S. officials have long advocated as a way to stem the flow of lethal opioids from China. (Sam McNeil/Associated Press)

The Chinese government will also step up efforts to make sure that courier companies check the contents of outbound international parcels, and verify and record the identity of the sender.

The announcement fulfills a promise that Chinese President Xi Jinping made to the Americans at the G-20 summit in Argentina last December. At the time, U.S. President Donald Trump said the move “could be a game changer in helping to reduce opioid-related deaths.

Fentanyl and its analogs are now the deadliest drugs on North American streets.

In Canada, more than 9,000 people have lost their lives due to opioids since the beginning of 2016, largely because of fentanyl. Nationally, the painkiller and its chemical cousins were involved in 72 per cent of all opioid-related deaths in the first six months of 2018.

In British Columbia, the hardest-hit province, 87 per cent  of the 1,510 overdose deaths recorded last year involved illicit fentanyl.

The U.S. numbers are even more staggering.

In 2017, more Americans died of drug overdoses than car crashes, with fentanyl implicated in 28,000 of the record 70,000 deaths.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers inspect a package at the International Mail Facility at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. China and Mexico are major sources of illegal fentanyl shipments. (Joshua Lott/Reuters)

A report released last week by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  found that fentanyl deaths have been doubling each year since 2014, showing a 1,000 per cent increase since 2011.

But even with the new government crackdown, China is likely to remain the world’s largest producer of illicit fentanyl.

That’s because the country has more than 5,000 drug makers and 400,000 chemical manufacturers, and almost no oversight, with few inspectors or regulators to enforce the rules that are already on the books.

And unlike other illegal drugs, a little fentanyl goes a long way, being both very potent and very pure. (It is often suggested that a single kilogram of the drug is enough to cause 500,000 fatal overdoses.)

Larger shipments arrive via Mexico, where two major drug organizations — the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco Cartel New Generation — are now involved in the transport and sale of the drug.

A firefighter treats an overdose victim in Rockford, Ill. In 2017, more Americans died of drug overdoses than car crashes, with fentanyl implicated in 28,000 of the record 70,000 deaths. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Then there’s a more direct distribution system, with smaller-scale dealers and individuals ordering small quantities of fentanyl off the internet, for home delivery via the Canadian or American postal services.

And even if China is able to turn off the flow of fentanyl, there are few barriers to stop drug makers and chemists in other less-regulated countries such as India or Mexico from supplying the market.

Illicit fentanyl is relatively easy and cheap to make, and as long as there’s user demand, it will continue to kill.


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Fixing iPhones

Soaked your iPhone? Apple may tell you your data is gone for good, but some are challenging that, reporter Terence McKenna writes.

“Apple wants to be the only tech company you trust” was one of the headlines last week following the company’s unveiling of its Apple TV+ news and streaming business.

That storyline is somewhat ironic to anyone who has been following the steady stream of negative stories around the world about Apple’s anti-competitive practices, tax-evasion and anti-trust lawsuits. A few months ago, for example, The National had a documentary-look at allegations that Apple was regularly overcharging customers for simple repairs and using “planned-obsolescence.”

Tonight we follow that up with a profile of a woman who is attacking the Apple empire’s stance on recovering “lost” phone data.

Jessa Jones runs a small business called iPad Rehab in Honeoye Falls, NY. The mother of four has a PhD in molecular biology from The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Jessa Jones of iPad Rehab in Honeoye Falls, NY, turned skills she learned while pursuing a PhD in molecular biology from The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine into a business diagnosing and fixing problems with Apple phones. (Alex Shprintsen/CBC)

“Now I apply the same sort of analytical reasoning skills and working with things that are really, really small and that have no user manual … to fix iPhones, figure out how they work and how to get them to turn back on when they stop working,” she says.

She started analyzing electronic problems after one of her twins dropped her iPhone in the toilet a few years ago. Jones wanted to fix it, and once she figured out how, she passed on those skills to other stay-at-home moms in her neighbourhood. They soon had a booming business.

Her specialty these days is recovering data from water-damaged devices, something that Apple tells customers is an impossible task. Jones claims a 95 per cent success rate.

Jones examines a magnified view of a circuit board, looking for problems. (Alex Shprintsen/CBC)

Apple says third-party repairs aren’t reliable and it removes her advice to customers from its on-line forum, but some people think they just don’t want the competition.

Our story about Apple phone repairs tonight begins with a Newfoundland couple who dropped their iPhone in the water during a canoe trip … and were sure they’d lost all the pictures they took during a once-in-a-lifetime trip across Europe and Scandinavia last year.

Check it out!

– Terence McKenna


California’s cannabis bust

A “green rush” into cannabis by California wine growers is a cautionary tale for Canadians who might be similarly tempted now that weed is legal here, reporter Kim Brunhuber writes.

As they sipped chardonnay and puffed on cannabis vape pens, I could only marvel at how the customers at this invitation-only dinner in San Francisco were able to remain vertical throughout the entire evening.

The “infused” meal seemed to perfectly symbolize the convergence of California’s wine and weed culture. But it turns out this pairing may not be quite as harmonious as many had first predicted.

An invitation-only ‘infused’ meal in San Francisco symbolizes the convergence of California’s wine and weed cultures. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

When I first became interested in telling the story of how California’s iconic wine country was turning into cannabis country, it seemed as though many of the players in the two industries were slowly morphing from competitors to colleagues.

“The people who are pushing to develop the cannabis industry in places like Napa and Sonoma, many of them are crossing over from the mainstream wine industry,” says Rachel Burkons, owner of Altered Plates, one of the companies that put on the infused dinner. “In the state of California, if there’s a dollar to be made in cannabis, somebody is finding a way to do it. The green rush is definitely on.”

In the months leading up to the legalization of recreational cannabis in California, some wine growers were poised to diversify their crops in the hopes of a lucrative payoff.

As a board member of both the Mendocino WineGrowers and the Mendocino Cannabis Industry Association, Tom Rodrigues embodies the pairing of California’s $35 billion US wine industry and its $5 billion cannabis industry.

“There is an estimated 10,000 cannabis farmers in Mendocino County and there’s only 548 vineyards. So it dwarfs the wine industry when it comes to actual participation,” Rodrigues told me as we chatted at his vineyard.

Tom Rodrigues, owner of Maple Creek Winery, embodies the pairing of two of California’s most profitable industries: its $35 billion US wine industry and its $5 billion US cannabis industry. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

But then the story took an unexpected turn. It seems you can have too much of a good thing.

A recent report by Vessel Logistics, a San Francisco-based cannabis distribution company, estimates California is growing at least five times the amount of cannabis that’s actually sold.

“As the commercial farmers have come on board and brought Big Ag technology with them, they’re able to produce a great-quality product at much higher volume and at much lower cost,” Vessel Logistics CEO Daniel D’Ancona told me. “It’s disrupted the whole market.”

D’Ancona predicts this year the price for wholesale plants could drop by half. And once it does, he says, that could eliminate 75 per cent of the current cannabis farms, because the margins will be too small to make a profit.

“The product will be selling for less than the cost of production,” D’Ancona says.

With those margins, any small vineyard that invested in cannabis cultivation risks being wiped out.

A recent report by Vessel Logistics, a San Francisco-based cannabis distribution company estimates California is growing at least five times the amount of cannabis that’s actually sold. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

It’s not yet known how many grape growers in wine country are growing cannabis; since it’s still illegal under federal law, many farmers are reluctant to go public. That’s why some – even those who seemed poised to plant their first commercial cannabis crops — are now sitting on the fence.

It’s a warning for Canadian grape growers who might similarly be tempted now that cannabis is legal.

“It’s kind of like the Gold Rush: there were thousands of people up there looking for gold, but how many actually found it?” Rodrigues says.

Despite the tempting allure of the so-called “green rush,” Rodrigues adds, cannabis “isn’t a money tree.”

– Kim Brunhuber


A few words on … 

Some Canadian comedy love.


Quote of the moment

“RIP Harambe/Sipping on some Bombay/We on our way to heaven/Amen, Amen.

RIP Harambe/Smoking on some strong hay/In the gorilla zoo/And we thinking about you.”

– Elon Musk pays heavily autotuned tribute to a dead gorilla and 2016 meme in a song/early April Fool’s joke that has already been played more than 1 million times.

Flowers are seen at a memorial outside the Cincinnati Zoo’s Gorilla World exhibit days after a three-year-old boy fell into the gorilla enclosure’s moat and officials were forced to kill Harambe, a 17-year-old Western lowland silverback gorilla, on June 2, 2016. (John Sommers II/Getty Images)


What The National is reading

  • Democrats to prepare subpoenas for full Mueller report (CBC)
  • Comedian takes commanding lead in Ukraine presidential vote (Reuters)
  • Mozambique confirms first cholera death as number of cases climbs (CBC)
  • Venezuela shortens work day, rations power amid blackouts (Al Jazeera)
  • Japan reveals name of new imperial era (Sky News)
  • 13 per cent of world’s companies are ‘zombies’ (CNN)
  • Germany presents law to make everyone an organ donor (Deutsche Welle)
  • Trump is ‘world’s worst cheat at golf,’ says new book (Guardian)

Today in history

April 1, 1979: Kissing Prince Charles

Prince Charles was on a world tour in the spring of 1979. Having dined on curried snake in Singapore and camped in the Australian outback, Victoria, B.C. probably seemed like a safe spot to catch some rest. But within the small crowd waiting to greet him at the airport lurked Kate Broke, a 22-year-old British au pair. As the little old ladies waved their Union Jacks and curtseyed, she darted in and gave him a peck on the cheek. “It’s a pretty good feeling to kiss the prince,” she told the CBC’s Colin Hoath. It was more about money than love, however. Broke’s boyfriend, a London photographer, had put her up to it to get the reaction shot.

As Prince Charles visits Victoria, B.C., one daring young lady steals a kiss. 1:39

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This story originally appeared on CBC

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