WASHINGTON – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and top Democrat on the committee Sen. Dianne Feinstein blasted China at a meeting on international narcotics Tuesday for its lackluster efforts to help stop fentanyl smuggling into the United States.
Fentanyl contributed to 49,000 deaths in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more deaths than prescription opioids or heroin.
“Last year, 60 percent of U.S. opioid deaths involved fentanyl. That number has increased from only 14 percent in 2010,” Grassley, R-Iowa, said.
Feinstein, D-Calif., said China was the primary focus of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control hearing because Chinese chemists produce and ship fentanyl to the United States via international mail. She said that any fentanyl arriving from China is 90 percent pure, which is especially deadly. Grassley noted Americans can purchase fentanyl products from Chinese laboratories online through express consignment or direct mail.
The House overwhelmingly passed a bill on Friday that would make several changes to Medicaid and Medicare programs and address the opioid epidemic at the U.S. border.
It would establish a demonstration project to increase provider treatment capacity for substance use disorders. Hospitals would be able to use the will be study to better understand patients who suffer from opioid addiction.
The bill would require new Medicare recipients to submit to opioid use screening tests and limit patients’ ability to electronically request a refill.
The Senate is expected to pass the measure soon.
Derek Scissors, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute called for targeted sanctions applying to certain Chinese municipalities if they do not cooperate on fentanyl production.
These sanctions would deem certain Chinese regions unsafe, thus stopping trade between these regions and the United States.
Kirsten D. Madison, Assistant Secretary at the State Department’s Bureau of international Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, said that China has demonstrated a willingness to work on these issues, but Feinstein was not convinced.
“If the Chinese leadership said knock this off, do something about it- it’s effecting us internationally- it would happen,” she said.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., was concerned about focusing only on China because future drug problems might not originate there.
Matthew Allen, a senior director at the Department of Homeland Security, said the agency’s focus is not solely on China.
“I still see Mexican cartels as the dominant drug threat to this country,” he said.