The drug fueling America’s unprecedented overdose crisis is available to mail-order directly from China by logging online. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that's 50 times more powerful than heroin, can be found using a simple internet search.
The ease with which the drug can be ordered online by Americans is difficult for law enforcement officials to combat.
"They can order from China and they'll mail it to your house,” said Montgomery County Ohio Sheriff Phil Plummer, whose jurisdiction is the overdose capital of America according to local officials. Chinese companies sell the drug as a “research chemical” and constantly change its composition to avoid authorities.
Nearly 35,000 Americans died of heroin or opioid overdoses in 2015, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The death rate of synthetic opioids, which includes fentanyl, rose more than 72% from 2014 to 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
President Donald Trump has said battling the opioid epidemic is a major piece of his administration, and on Tuesday held a briefing on the topic at his New Jersey golf club. The president alluded to the mail-order threat, something that will not be stopped by his administration’s proposed border wall.
"We're also very, very tough on the Southern border where much of this comes in,” the president said, "and we're talking to China, where certain forms of man-made drug comes in and it is bad.”
Attempting to order fentanyl online from China came with a dose of customer service — complete with smiley face emoticons and an explanation of paying with bitcoin. NBC News did not go through with the purchase of the drug, but the Drug Enforcement Agency says mainland Chinese companies are known to manufacture and distribute fentanyl and other illegal drugs using e-commerce.
Efforts have been made by the U.S. government to screen for the drug in the mail, and legislation has been introduced to make detection of fentanyl easier abroad and domestically. The President's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis has recommended making fentanyl production and distribution "a top tier diplomatic issue with the Chinese.” Chinese officials maintain their country is not to blame for the death toll in the United States.
Yu Haibin, a director at China’s Narcotics Control Bureau, said “you can’t just solely blame China for Fentanyl’s abuse.” Yu claims the country is ahead of the United States in outlawing analogues of the drug, and insists his nation is working with the United States as the drug continues to flood American streets.
"We hope to set up forums, to share intelligence and information, and case cooperation and solve the drug crime fundamentally with international cooperation."