The novel coronavirus has turned America upside-down, killing tens of thousands and laying waste to some 30 million jobs. We know the virus emerged from Wuhan, China, perhaps from a virology lab. But Wuhan is also the source of another deadly epidemic, long predating COVID-19: American fentanyl overdoses.
It just goes to show how much damage China and our entanglements with its Communist regime have done to our nation.
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, has quickly become America’s most dangerous drug. In 2018, fentanyl killed 31,897 people in the United States, more than twice the number felled by any other narcotic. Just two milligrams, enough to cover Lincoln’s beard on a penny, can prove fatal. In the past five years, it has devastated hundreds of US communities, particularly in the Northeast and Midwest.
As a recent RAND analysis concludes, “most of the fentanyl and novel synthetic opioids in US street markets — as well as their precursor chemicals — originate in China, where the regulatory system does not effectively police the country’s expansive pharmaceutical and chemical industries.”
Chinese manufacturers export the drug in two ways. First, they send shipments directly to American criminal organizations via the US Postal Service, UPS and FedEx, using the “dark Web” to process orders. Second, they ship fentanyl and precursor chemicals to drug cartels in Mexico, which then smuggle the final product into the homeland.
Over the past decade, Wuhan has emerged as the global headquarters for fentanyl production. The city’s chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturers hide production of the drug within their larger, licit manufacturing operations, then ship it abroad using deliberately mislabeled packaging, concealment techniques and a complex network of forwarding addresses.
According to a recent ABC News report, “huge amounts of these mail-order [fentanyl] components can be traced to a single, state-subsidized company in Wuhan.”
When Wuhan went into lockdown due to the coronavirus, North America’s illegal drug market went into panic mode. Drug cartels in Mexico forecasted a massive spike in prices for fentanyl and methamphetamine; law-enforcement officials in the United States reported a shortage of drugs in Denver, Houston and Philadelphia.
Still, the drug continues to kill. Even amid state lockdown orders, street dealers in places like San Francisco’s Tenderloin district have donned gloves and masks and continued distributing Chinese-supplied fentanyl to addicts.
On the surface, the coronavirus and fentanyl occupy different material domains: One is a rare bat virus, the other is a common synthetic opioid. But these twin epidemics represent a larger phenomenon of Sino-American complicity. Since China’s economic liberalization and admission to the global trade system, US companies have benefited from the cheap labor supply in cities like Wuhan; in exchange, the Chinese Communist Party has become a world economic power.
Now, we are experiencing the dark side of this pact. The globalized market can deliver an astonishing array of cheap products to American households; but it can also deliver industrial quantities of fentanyl and make us vulnerable to a disease like COVID-19.
The result is breathtaking: By year’s end, a single city in central China, which most Americans had never heard of, will have produced a virus and a chemical that could kill more than 1 million people across the globe.
And in both cases, the Beijing regime’s negligence, if not intentional malice, are contributing factors. Regarding the coronavirus, the Chinese government ignored repeated warnings about safety concerns at the Wuhan Institute of Virology — and then covered up what the Trump administration suspects was an accidental viral release.
Regarding drug exports, China’s Communist leadership has consistently failed to regulate the illicit fentanyl market, refused to crack down on producers and interfered with Food and Drug Administration inspectors probing pharmaceutical production.
The next few years will augur a major realignment in the Sino-American relationship. American policymakers must be shrewd in negotiating with the Chinese and put the interests of the nation above all else. Fentanyl and coronavirus are two exports we shouldn’t tolerate. No cheap goods are worth this devastation.
This piece first appeared at the New York Post
Christopher F. Rufo is a contributing editor of City Journal, documentary filmmaker, and research fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Wealth & Poverty. This piece was adapted from City Journal.
Photo by Stringer/Getty Images