China bans more synthetic opioids blamed for US drug deaths

June 19, 2017 by Louise Watt
Deng Ming, deputy director of the National Narcotics Control Commission speaks during the National Anti-drug Committee briefing at a hotel in Beijing, Monday, June 19, 2017. China has announced it is banning a deadly synthetic opioid called U-47700 and three other synthetic drugs. Deng said the drugs would be added to China's list of controlled substances as of July 1. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

China said Monday it would ban a designer drug called U-47700 and three others, following U.S. pressure to do more to control synthetic opioids blamed for fast-rising overdose deaths in the United States.

In China, U-47700 has until now been a legal alternative to fentanyl and potent derivatives like carfentanil. Its usage has been growing among U.S. opioid addicts.

Last year, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration listed U-47700 in the category of the most dangerous drugs it regulates, saying it was associated with dozens of fatalities, mostly in New York and North Carolina. Some of the pills taken from Prince's estate after the musician's overdose death last year contained U-47700.

The DEA has long said that China is the top source country for synthetic opioids like fentanyl and its precursors, assertions Beijing has said lack firm evidence. Still, the two countries have deepened cooperation as the U.S. opioid epidemic intensifies.

Deng Ming, deputy director of the National Narcotics Control Commission, said that U-47700 and three other synthetic drugs—MT-45, PMMA, and 4,4'-DMAR—would be added to China's list of controlled substances as of July 1.

Yu Haibin, a division director at the Ministry of Public Security's Narcotics Control Bureau, said China was making "big efforts" to deal with drugs known as new psychoactive substances. These substances are made by modifying the chemical structures of controlled substances in order to get around the law, and China has now restricted 138 of them.

Deng Ming, deputy director of the National Narcotics Control Commission listens a question by Justin Schoeman from U.S. drug enforcement administration base in Beijing, during the National Anti-drug Committee briefing at a hotel in Beijing, Monday, June 19, 2017. China has announced it is banning a deadly synthetic opioid called U-47700 and three other synthetic drugs. Deng said the drugs would be added to China's list of controlled substances as of July 1. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

However, as soon as one substance is banned, chemists create slightly different and technically legal alternatives and then market them online.

"My feeling is that it's just like a race and I will never catch up with the criminals," Yu told a news conference. "Actually, we just want to make a breakthrough in dealing with this."

To counter the cat-and-mouse game, Yu said authorities had set up a system whereby information on new types of drugs gleaned during police investigations, customs clearances and medical treatment would be transferred to the national drug lab. An expert committee would then assess this information and send alert notices to relevant agencies in order to help speed up the control of new substances, he said.

Yu said suspects use the internet to communicate with customers and use the anonymized digital currency bitcoin to transfer money, and that authorities were working with internet companies to try to stop such trade and the advertising of drugs on websites.

To combat drugs being sent by post or express delivery service, authorities were carrying out real-name registration requirements and X-rays of parcels being delivered to "high-risk areas," he said.

Deng Ming, deputy director of the National Narcotics Control Commission speaks during the National Anti-drug Committee briefing at a hotel in Beijing, Monday, June 19, 2017. China has announced it is banning a deadly synthetic opioid called U-47700 and three other synthetic drugs. Deng said the drugs would be added to China's list of controlled substances as of July 1. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Addressing the news conference, Justin Schoeman, Beijing-based country attache for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said: "I can tell you that when China controls a substance, (new psychoactive substances) or fentanyl-classed substance, it has a huge impact on seizures and availability in the U.S., so thank you very much.

"The controlling of substances in China certainly saves lives in the U.S.," he added.

He added that China's banning of additional substances means the U.S. and China can now carry out joint investigations on those chemicals, including the tracking of packages from the source through to the recipients in the U.S.

U-47700 is a synthetic opioid, a fast-proliferating class of drugs that have caused thousands of deaths in the United States. In 2015 alone, there were 9,580 deaths due to synthetic opioids other than methadone, accounting for almost a fifth of all drug overdose deaths.

Explore further: The latest opioid street mix causing concern: 'Gray death'

Related Stories

The latest opioid street mix causing concern: 'Gray death'

May 4, 2017
It's being called "gray death"—a new and dangerous opioid combo that underscores the ever-changing nature of the U.S. addiction crisis.

Five things to know about America's synthetic-opioid epidemic

December 21, 2016
Government scientists say they're seeing the emergence of a new class of deadly drugs built to mimic the potent prescription painkiller fentanyl. What you need to know:

China carfentanil ban a 'game-changer' for opioid epidemic

February 16, 2017
So deadly it's considered a terrorist threat, carfentanil has been legal in China— until now. Beijing is banning carfentanil and three similar drugs as of March 1, China's Ministry of Public Security said Thursday, closing ...

New synthetic drug U-47700 has states rushing to stop spread

June 7, 2016
A new synthetic drug that can be purchased online and is connected to at least 50 deaths nationwide has several states scrambling to stop its spread, with Kansas law enforcement agencies seeking an emergency ban.

Street Norco looks like the real thing but really, really isn't

July 28, 2016
A paper published online yesterday in Annals of Emergency Medicine warns that a new street drug combining fentanyl and a novel synthetic opioid is being marketed illicitly as Norco but is much stronger and much more dangerous.

Painkiller that killed Prince part of dangerous wave of new synthetic drugs

June 16, 2016
(HealthDay)—The recent overdose death of rock legend Prince has brought renewed focus on the dangers posed by synthetic opioids—laboratory-created narcotics tweaked by chemists to produce potentially lethal highs while ...

Recommended for you

Drug for spinal muscular atrophy prompts ethical dilemmas, bioethicists say

December 11, 2017
When the Food and Drug Administration approved the first drug for people with spinal muscular atrophy a year ago, clinicians finally had hope for improving the lives of patients with the rare debilitating muscular disease. ...

FDA's program to speed up drug approval shaved nearly a year off the process

December 7, 2017
Speeding the pace at which potentially lifesaving drugs are brought to market was a rallying cry for Donald Trump as a candidate, and is a stated priority of his Food and Drug Administration commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb. ...

Dangers of commonly prescribed painkillers highlighted in study

December 6, 2017
Commonly prescribed painkillers need to be given for shorter periods of time to reduce the risk of obesity and sleep deprivation, a new study has revealed.

Viagra goes generic: Pfizer to launch own little white pill

December 6, 2017
The little blue pill that's helped millions of men in the bedroom is turning white. Drugmaker Pfizer is launching its own cheaper generic version of Viagra rather than lose most sales when the impotence pill gets its first ...

Surgery-related opioid doses can drop dramatically without affecting patients' pain

December 6, 2017
Some surgeons might be able to prescribe a third of opioid painkiller pills that they currently give patients, and not affect their level of post-surgery pain control, a new study suggests.

Four-fold jump in deaths in opioid-driven hospitalizations

December 4, 2017
People who end up in the hospital due to an opioid-related condition are four times more likely to die now than they were in 2000, according to research led by Harvard Medical School and published in the December issue of ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.