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China blacklists a drug and closes a deadly loophole
Published on: 2017-02-17
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050Members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police go through a decontamination procedure after intercepting a package containing around 1 kilogram of the powerful opioid carfentanil, imported from China to Vancouver. China has now added the drug to its list of controlled substances.

The drug is so strong and deadly, it's been researched as a chemical weapon of warfare; police officers are warned to handle it with extreme care. The opioid carfentanil is 10,000 times more potent than morphine - but until now, it hasn't been a controlled substance in China, where producers have been exporting it abroad.

U.S. officials are welcoming the news that China will now list carfentanil as a controlled substance, putting it in the same category as fentanyl - the less powerful opioid of which carfentanil is a variant. Fentanyl was blamed for the death of Prince last year.

Potent and addictive, fentanyl and carfentanil have played deadly roles in the opioid epidemic that has swept the U.S. and killed thousands of Americans in recent years, as the drugs have been mixed into heroin or used to create an alternative to that less powerful drug. From 2010 to 2014, officials say, heroin overdoses more than tripled in the U.S. - and part of the problem, they add, is that drug users may not realize how strong the adulterated drugs are.

051Carfentanil can be lethal at the 2-milligram range

The new controls over carfentanil comes months after a senior official at China's Ministry of Public Security's Narcotics Control Bureau said there was no proof that carfentanil from China was to blame for a spate of deaths in the U.S. and Europe.

In its advisory about the drug, the DEA states, "carfentanil is approximately 100 times more potent than fentanyl, which can be lethal at the 2-milligram range."

The DEA says the precise lethal dose of carfentanil for a human "is unknown" - perhaps because, as the National Library of Medicine states, the drug "is intended for large-animal use only as its extreme potency makes it inappropriate for use in humans."

Illustrating that point, the DEA displayed an image of a tiny 2-milligram pile of powder next to a penny. In that image, the powder was a little bigger than Abraham Lincoln's ear.

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