Washington D.C. - During the State of the Union address, the president highlighted the continued devastation caused by fentanyl, a deadly synthetic opioid that is coming into the country illegally at unprecedented levels.

Much of the illicit fentanyl here originates in China.

To hold accountable countries that turn a blind eye to this problem, U.S. Senators Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Doug Jones (D-Ala.) along with U.S. Representatives James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis 5th) and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.11th) are introducing the bipartisan Blocking Deadly Fentanyl Imports Act. The legislation imposes new penalties on fentanyl-exporting nations like China that do not adhere to international narcotics control standards.

Under the Blocking Deadly Fentanyl Imports Act, a nation exporting illicit fentanyl would be ineligible for U.S. taxpayer-subsidized foreign aid or Export-Import Bank loans if it fails to cooperate with U.S. narcotics control efforts. These conditions already apply to any nation identified by the Department of State as a major producer or trafficker of illicit heroin, marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine and its precursor chemicals.

"Illicit fentanyl from outside our borders has already prematurely ended far too many American lives," said Senator Toomey. "As fentanyl can be fifty times as potent as heroin, even small, difficult to detect amounts can be lethal, which is why it's important to stop this problem at its source. This bipartisan legislation is a commonsense update to existing law that will hold the nations producing illicit fentanyl accountable, whether it be China or wherever the threat emerges next."

"We have seen an increase in substance use deaths in Alabama and across the country because of the rise of illicit fentanyl," said Senator Jones. "Even small amounts of it can be deadly for our first responders should they be exposed. Our dedicated Customs and Border Protection officers recently made the largest seizure in U.S. history of fentanyl during a stop at a border checkpoint. This bipartisan bill will add to those efforts to help stop illicit fentanyl from being trafficked across our borders and into our communities."

"Americans are now more likely to die from opioid-related overdoses than from car accidents, and fentanyl is the drug most responsible for fatalities," said Representative Sensenbrenner. "Protecting our communities from illicit fentanyl and fentanyl analogues will require an all-hands-on-deck effort, including better cooperation from the foreign nations from which these deadly drugs are produced and trafficked into our country. This bipartisan legislation will hold these countries accountable for failing to cooperate adequately with our drug enforcement efforts. I'm grateful to Senators Toomey and Jones and Congressman Connolly for their leadership on this important bill."

"Fentanyl is destroying families and driving overdose deaths across our country," said Representative Connolly. "Just last week, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol seized more than 254 pounds of fentanyl at an official port of entry, their largest confiscation in history. Our bipartisan bill will provide more tools in the growing global fight against this dangerous drug by encouraging countries to cooperate with U.S. drug enforcement efforts. I thank Senators Toomey and Jones, and Representative Sensenbrenner for their leadership on this issue."


What is fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a powerful and deadly synthetic opioid analgesic that is similar to morphine but 50 to 100 times more potent. It is up to 50 times more powerful than heroin.[1]

What is the role of fentanyl in the current crisis in drug overdoses?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29,418 Americans died from overdoses involving fentanyl in 2017, an increase of 840 percent in just five years.[2] According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, fentanyl was present in 67 percent of the 5,456 drug overdoses in Pennsylvania in 2017.[3] According to the Virginia Department of Health, fentanyl caused or contributed to over 50 percent of fatal overdoses in 2017. [4]

What would the Blocking Deadly Fentanyl Imports Act do to help?

The Blocking Deadly Fentanyl Imports Act would update longstanding U.S. policy to condition foreign aid to major illicit drug producing nations on support of U.S. narcotics control efforts. It would cut off certain foreign aid to major fentanyl producing countries that fail to adopt laws or regulations similar to U.S. standards on prosecution of individuals trafficking a controlled substance, emergency scheduling of new psychoactive substances, and registration of pill presses or tableting machines.

Does the Blocking Deadly Fentanyl Imports Act block all foreign aid to major drug trafficking and transit countries?

No, disaster relief, food assistance, medical assistance, and refugee assistance are exempted. Furthermore, the president can maintain the flow of all aid to countries that cooperate with efforts to reduce fentanyl exports to our country and in cases of vital national interest.

Where does illicit fentanyl come from?

Based on U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seizure data, China is the principal source country of illicit fentanyl and fentanyl-related compounds in the United States, including both scheduled and non-scheduled substances.[5]

On June 28, 2018, CBP seized 110 pounds of fentanyl from China at the Port of Philadelphia.[6] That amount has a street value of nearly $1.7 billion and could kill the entire population of Pennsylvania two times over.[7]

What action has China recently taken on fentanyl?

At the request of the United States, China has controlled 25 fentanyl substances and two precursor chemicals. However, there are approximately 1,400 potential fentanyl analogues.[8]

As part of recent negotiations with the Trump administration, China indicated that they would take steps to schedule fentanyl as a class, effectively controlling all potential fentanyl analogues. However, it will take some time before we can be certain China will deliver on this commitment or effectively enforce it. [9]

The United States has also indicted six Chinese nationals in connection with fentanyl manufacturing and distribution. All six charged Chinese nationals remain at large.[10]

While the majority of illicit fentanyl currently comes from China, experts have also noted fentanyl production is relatively cheap and could shift to other nations with large, lightly regulated chemical industries. This is an important reason that the Blocking Deadly Fentanyl Imports Act applies to every country identified by the administration as a major illicit fentanyl producing or trafficking nation, not just China.

Has the Foreign Assistance Act been amended before in response to a drug crisis?

Yes. In 2005, the U.S. House voted 423-2 to add methamphetamine and its precursors to the list (RCV 386, H.Amdt. 460 to H.R. 2601, July 19, 2005). The provision was then adopted as part of P.L. 109-177.

[1] "Drug Facts: Fentanyl," National Institute on Drug Abuse, June 2016.
[2] Christopher Ingraham, "Fentanyl use drove drug overdose deaths to a record high in 2017, CDC estimates," The Washington Post, August 15, 2018.
[3] "DEA Announces 5,456 Drug-Related Overdose Deaths in Pennsylvania in 2017," United States Drug Enforcement Administration, August 21, 2018.
[4] "Fatal Drug Overdose Quarterly Report," Virginia Department of Health, July 2018.
[5] "International Narcotics Control Strategy Report," United States Department of State, March 2018.
[6] "Philadelphia CBP Seizes Nearly $1.7 Million in Fentanyl Shipped from China," U.S. Customs and Border Protection, June 28, 2018.
[7] Bruce Golding, "Men caught with enough fentanyl to kill 26 million people, New York Post, June 8, 2018.
[8] Agnieszka Skulska, Maria Kala, and Andrzej Parczewski, "Fentanyl and its analogues in the forensic laboratory, medical and analytical problems, Problems of Forensic Sciences, October 6, 2004.
[9] Sui-Lee Wee, "Trump Says China Will Curtail Fentanyl. The U.S. Has Heard That Before." The New York Times, December 3, 2018.
[10] Esmé E. Deprez, Li Hui, and Ken Wills, "Deadly Chinese Fentanyl Is Creating a New Era of Drug Kingpins," Bloomberg, May 22, 2018.