An investigative team from VICE News made a podcast titled Painkiller: America’s Fentanyl Crisis to report on the illegal fentanyl drug business. The team managed to trace the supply chain links that indicated sources in Mexico and China.
The reporters reached out to a host of China-based online vendors who offered fentanyl and other synthetic opioids to interested buyers. In an exclusive interview1, the team caught up with a fentanyl trafficker in China called Mr. Yue (not his real name) who elucidated the nature of his business and confessed the concerns he had about the dangerous nature of drugs he sold.
Dozens of Drug Listings
The VICE team came face-to-face with realities about Yue’s drug business, which included the operation of an online platform with a dozen drug listings. The website advertised various chemicals for sale and, in highlight, the platform promoted methoxyacetyl fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid.
On being questioned about the fentanyl listing, Yue clarified that his website was outdated as he had move on to other ventures. The man is currently training people on fentanyl manufacture through a step-by-step guide he developed – he also teaches people about how they can operate a clandestine fentanyl lab.
As far as his knowledge is concerned, Yue said that there’s a long list of methodologies used by drug manufacturers to synthesize fentanyl. He noted that while some people depend on chemicals banned in both the U.S. and China, a number of basic substances can be used to synthesize the dangerous drug.
Shifting to Coronavirus-Related Supplies
Yue said that he ventured into the drug trade by accident, as he was keen to transform his financial situation at the time. He had succeeded to establish networks online and worked hard to build a foundation for his business, but the government crackdown on fentanyl has scared him off the trade.
According to his confession, the drug trafficker halted his fentanyl production and sales operation in May. The trafficker changed his scope to target the sale of coronavirus-related supplies like COVID-19 testing kits and respirator masks, which have become scarce and in high demand2 across the U.S.
The decision was arrived in response to the Chinese law enforcement move to regulate synthetic opioids as controlled substances. The fentanyl business has become risky owing to the current law enforcement and regulatory circumstances, although Yue confirmed the continued existence of synthetic opioid listings on his website.
Reportedly, synthetic opioids had long been unregulated by the government – which allowed people to manufacture and distribute. In fact, the synthetic opioid industry in China had flourished as some pharmaceutical export firms benefited from government support3 while the U.S. had banned the drug altogether. The Chinese resolution to begin regulating synthetic opioids was therefore considered due to external pressure from the U.S.
In Yue’s view, it appears that the new regulations have caused the desired effect since Chinese sources have been responsible for the fentanyl crisis in the U.S. Statistical data by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection reflect a 45 percent reduction in fentanyl seizures from 2018 figures.