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Legislation Gives Feds New Tools to Target Chinese and Foreign Fentanyl Traffickers

June 28, 2019 by Sean Trambley

As the opioid crisis continues to devastate families and communities across the country, a new bipartisan bill, the Fentanyl Sanctions Act, promises to put more teeth in efforts to curb the activities of Chinese and other traffickers of Fentanyl and synthetic opioids.

Included in the Senate National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, the bill directs the Trump administration to identify and sanction foreign traffickers of synthetic opioids on an annual basis; authorize new funding for law enforcement and intelligence agencies’ sanctions efforts; and pressure China, Mexico, and other countries to crack down on the illicit trade.

Specifically, the legislation requires the imposition of sanctions on drug manufacturers in China who knowingly provide synthetic opioids to transnational criminal organizations, like those in Mexico, who mix fentanyl with other drugs and traffic them into the U.S., and financial institutions that assist such entities. Waivers would be provided for countries that take sufficient action to implement and enforce regulations on synthetic opioid production

It also authorizes new funding to law enforcement and intelligence agencies, including the Departments of Treasury, Department of Defense and Department of State, to combat the foreign trafficking of synthetic opioids. The bill urges the President to commence diplomatic efforts with U.S. partners to establish multilateral sanctions against foreign synthetic opioid traffickers

And, the bill establishes a Commission on Synthetic Opioid Trafficking to monitor U.S. efforts and report on how to more effectively combat the flow of synthetic opioids from China, Mexico and elsewhere.

“We must hold China, currently the world’s largest producer of illicit fentanyl, accountable for its role in the trade of this deadly drug. Our Senate-passed, bipartisan sanctions bill will do just that,” said Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.. “The opioid crisis has claimed tens of thousands of lives and devastated families and communities across the country. In New York state, from November 2017 to 2018, approximately 2,000 people died from an opioid overdose. About 1,500 of those deaths were from synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Our legislation is critical in this fight to save American lives, and I hope to announce soon that this bill will be signed into law.”

“The Chinese government is the world’s largest drug dealer,” said Senator Tom Cotton, R-Ark. “China has allowed fentanyl and other synthetic opioids to pour into the United States for years, killing tens of thousands of Americans. Our law enforcement and intelligence agencies need additional resources to target the fentanyl producers, traffickers, cartels, and other criminals who are funneling this poison across our borders and into our communities. I’m pleased that this year’s NDAA includes our bipartisan amendment to give law enforcement critical tools to stop this scourge and hold China accountable.”

“On average, 14 Ohioans will die every day in Ohio due to an opioid overdose,” said Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Ranking Member Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. “The addiction crisis has taken too many lives and caused too much devastation in Ohio. This bill will add effective new sanctions tools to help combat the flood of illicit fentanyl coming into the U.S. primarily from China and Mexico, and help provide intelligence and funding to keep these dangerous drugs out of Ohio communities.”

“There is not a single state, and not a single community, in our country that is not impacted in some way by the deadly export from China of fentanyl and its over one thousand synthetic analogues,” said Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Chairman Mike Crapo, R-Idaho. “While China only recently agreed to the administration’s demand to prohibit all fentanyl clones through necessary regulation, this bill provides important new authorities to curb fentanyl exports by targeting those who manufacture these insidious drugs and those who facilitate or finance them. We must hold the Chinese government accountable for the fentanyl illicitly made in and exported from its country and this bill will do precisely that.”

“Fentanyl has been pouring into our country, devastating our communities every day for the past five years. In 2018 alone, a record 3,163 New Jerseyans died of opioid-related overdoses including prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl,” said Senate Foreign Relations Ranking Member Bob Menendez, D-N.J. “But despite our continued efforts to increase security at our ports, the fact is we need the cooperation from other countries if we’re going to have any chance at stopping this epidemic. We cannot simply take China’s word for it when they say they’ll crack down on fentanyl manufacturers—especially when American lives are at stake. With this legislation, we are sending a clear message to the Chinese government—and any other country that decides to turn a blind eye to fentanyl production—that says your actions will have consequences. I am proud to partner with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to take this important step forward in our fight to end the scourge of opioid addiction.”

Following a commitment to the U.S. at the G-20 in December 2018, Chinese regulators announced on April 1, 2019, that a wider range of fentanyl derivatives would be declared controlled substances in China on May 1, 2019. China has struggled to enforce its current drug laws and continues to deny that its illicit fentanyl producers are a major source of the illicit opioids contributing to the U.S. opioid crisis. 

To ensure accountability, Senators Schumer, Cotton, Brown, Crapo, Menendez, Toomey, Rubio, Shaheen, Cornyn, Markey, Capito, Peters, Feinstein, and Blackburn’s sanctions legislation would pressure the Chinese government to move forward with an aggressive plan to enforce its announced new laws and provide the U.S. executive branch with flexible new sanction tools to go after actors, from manufacturers to traffickers, in China and other countries. 

Introduced by Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. in April, cosponsors for the legislation include Senator Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Ranking Member Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Chairman Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Ranking Member Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Senator Pat Toomey, R-Pa., Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Senator Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, Senator Ed Markey, D-Mass., Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Ranking Member Gary Peters, D-Mich., Senate Committee on the Judiciary Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, and Senator Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.A detailed synopsis of the bill can be found here.

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