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August, 2018

Two Chinese drug counterfeiters indicted by Justice Department

Original article: United States Justice Department

The United States Justice Department has indicted two Chinese nationals for operating a massive illegal opioid business involved in a lethal counterfeit-pill supply chain. The indictment charges two Chinese citizens, Zheng Fujing and Zheng Guanghua, with running a "conspiracy that manufactured and shipped deadly fentanyl analogues and 250 other drugs to at least 25 countries and 37 states." The charges carry a potential life-imprisonment sentence.

Analysis:

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opiate used as a painkiller. People overdose more easily on fentanyl than other opiates because of its concentration - 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. People sometimes overdose on the drug when they consume counterfeit painkillers made with illicit fentanyl or fentanyl analogues. Many of those drugs are sourced from China. 


The drug or its analogues killed an estimated 29,000 Americans in 2017, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In April, singer Prince died after taking a counterfeit Vicodin pill containing fentanyl. "In all likelihood, Prince had no idea he was taking a counterfeit pill that could kill him," prosecutor Mark Metz told journalists in April. "Others around Prince also likely did not know that the pills were counterfeit containing fentanyl."


Ahead of the announcement of the indictment against the Zhengs, U.S. President Donald Trump attacked China for supplying illicit fentanyl in a tweet: "It is outrageous that Poisonous Synthetic Heroin Fentanyl comes pouring into the U.S. Postal System from China. We can, and must, END THIS NOW!" Trump wrote. 


Both the US Drug Enforcement Administration and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy say that China is the primary source of the key ingredients in the illicit fentanyl supply chain. 


Beijing has denied being responsible for the majority of illegal fentanyl imported into the United States. "The evidence isn’t sufficient to say that most fentanyl or other new psychoactive substances come from China," Wei Xiaojun, deputy director general of the Narcotics Control Bureau of the Ministry of Public Security, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press in November. 


According to the Justice Department, the Zhengs' drug operation shipped millions of lethal doses of fentanyl analogues and other drugs linked to overdoses to the U.S. and other countries. To promote their illegal business, the Zhengs highlighted their ability to manufacture bespoke drugs and evade detection by the authorities during the shipping process. Further, when China banned a synthetic narcotic the Zhengs and their co-conspirators would devise an analogue of the drug that was chemically different (to some degree) but with the same or even stronger effect. "In this manner, the DTO (drug-trafficking organization) entirely bypassed China’s restrictions on international narcotics sales," the Justice Department said. 


The Justice Department's investigation also implicates the Zhengs in the manufacture of fake cancer and ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) drugs. In July, the Zheng DTO "agreed to manufacture adulterated cancer medication, creating counterfeit pills that replaced the active cancer-fighting ingredient with dangerous synthetic drugs. It also created and shipped counterfeit Adderall pills that were adulterated with deadly bath salts," the Justice Department said. 

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