Recently, on a visit to China, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the production and export of deadly fentanyl and its precursors from China. 

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  • Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is the leading cause of overdose deaths among Americans aged 18-49.
  • Drug trafficking organizations typically distribute fentanyl by the kilogram.  One kilogram of fentanyl has the potential to kill 500,000 people.
  • Fentanyl misuse is a major concern for US voters, especially in swing states.
  • This reflects the urgency of addressing the fentanyl crisis in the US.
  • The US blames China for its role in supplying precursor chemicals used to manufacture fentanyl.

About Fentanyl 

  • Opioids, including fentanyl, oxycodone, morphine and heroin, are a class of drugs that derive or mimic the natural substances found in the opium poppy plant. They produce a variety of effects, including pain relief and euphoria, and are highly addictive. 
  • Fentanyl, an exceedingly potent synthetic opioid is approximately 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin as an analgesic. 
  • Medicinal Uses: Prescribed for severe pain management, especially after surgery or for advanced-stage cancer. 
  • Overdoses of fentanyl can cause stupor, changes in pupil size, clammy skin, coma, and respiratory failure leading to death. 
  • In recent times, the US has been witnessing an opioid epidemic, marked by a dramatic surge in overdose deaths, predominantly involving opioids. 
  • According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “the number of people who died from a drug overdose in 2021 was over six times the number in 1999. 
  • Over 75% of US drug overdose deaths in 2021 involved opioids. 

China’s Role

  • The US has primarily blamed two countries for the trafficking of fentanyl — Mexico and China. 
  • A US House Committee report stated that China subsidizes fentanyl production through tax rebates.
  • China allegedly ships precursor chemicals to Mexico for processing into fentanyl which are then sent to the US.


  • The control over fentanyl depends largely on China’s local governments as they see fentanyl production as an economic benefit.
  • Obstacles also include China’s intricate regulatory framework, local government incentives fostering fentanyl production, and evasive manoeuvres by criminal syndicates.
  • Accountability has been placed on the US pharmaceutical sector for excessive opioid prescriptions, contributing to addiction.
  • The fentanyl issue is complex, involving multiple countries and criminal organizations.

Need for Cooperation

  • Both the US and China understand that dealing with the fentanyl crisis needs bilateral cooperation and have made attempts to cooperate on controlling fentanyl. 
  • In 2019, China announced it would add fentanyl-related substances to a list of controlled narcotic drugs. This led to some of the production shifting to India, although here too export of fentanyl precursors has been regulated since 2018.  
  • In November 2023, a bilateral Counternarcotics Working Group was established to coordinate law enforcement actions and address the misuse of precursor chemicals, among other things. 

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The CIP-South Asia Regional Centre (CIP-SARC) Agra