First ever indictment against Chinese manufacturers of opioids

The Justice Department recently took unprecedented steps to combat the opioid crisis in the United States by filing indictments against Chinese manufacturers of fentanyl and other opioid substances. The department has labeled these manufacturers as Consolidate Priority Organization Targets (CPOTS), which it believes are the “most significant drug trafficking threats in the world,” because they have elements of the most productive money laundering and drug trafficking organizations.

The investigations of the Chinese manufacturers revealed a new and disturbing facet of the opioid crisis in America—fentanyl and fentanyl analogues are coming into the United States in numerous ways, including highly pure shipments of fentanyl from factories in China directly to U.S. customers who purchase it on the Internet. Unwary or inexperienced users often have no idea that they are ingesting fentanyl until it is too late. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that over 20,000 Americans were killed by fentanyl and fentanyl analogues in 2016, and the number is rising at an exponential rate.

The indictments, filed against two Chinese nationalists and a handful of American citizens which are alleged to have conspired with the nationalists, claimed that the nationals operated chemical plants and labs in China and sold fentanyl to United States citizens via the internet. The indictment against one manufacturer further alleged that the chemical structure of the drugs had been modified in order to evade prosecution. If convicted, the nationalists could face prison time and significant monetary penalties.