By Guy Page
China – once the victim of foreign powers exporting opium – is now the biggest exporter of fentanyl, the synthetic opiate that killed about 130 Vermonters in 2020.
The Chinese government is complicit, China expert Gordon Chang wrote in October, 2020. “The Communist Party, through its cells, controls every business of any consequence,” said Chang, a frequent guest on Fox News and other networks. “Beijing tightly controls the banking system and knows of money transfers instantaneously. Furthermore, fentanyl cannot leave the country undetected, as virtually all shipped items are examined before departing Chinese soil.”
Chang’s claim is backed by a declassified 2020 Drug Enforcement Agency Report that states, “currently, China remains the primary source of fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances trafficked through international mail and express consignment operations environment, as well as the main source for all fentanyl-related substances trafficked into the United States.”
As Chang writes: “China’s postal service has to know that it has become, among other things, the world’s busiest drug mule.”
The Vermont Health Dept. says 157 people died from opioid-related causes in 2020, a 38% increase over the 114 in 2019. Fentanyl was involved in 88% of the deaths. Officials say pandemic-related isolation and depression is partly responsible for the increase in opioid related deaths.
China’s first encounter with the international opium drug trade came on the receiving end.
The Opium Wars (1839-1842) arose from China’s attempts to suppress the opium trade. Foreign traders (primarily British) had been illegally exporting opium mainly from India to China since the 18th century, but that trade grew dramatically from about 1820, reports.
200 years ago British traders dramatically increased their export of opium from India into China, according to Encyclopedia Brittanica. With support from the British government, the traders grew rich on the highly profitable opium trade at the financial and physical expense of the Chinese people, against the wishes of a Chinese government that tried but failed to stop them.
“The resulting widespread addiction in China was causing serious social and economic disruption there,” writes the Encyclopedia Brittanica. “In spring 1839 the Chinese government confiscated and destroyed more than 20,000 chests of opium—some 1,400 tons of the drug—that were warehoused at Canton (Guangzhou) by British merchants.”
Thus began the Opium Wars (1839-42, and another a decade later), in which the world’s greatest empire enriched itself by forcing opiates on a then-weak China. In the ensuing years the ‘Chinese opium den’ became a proverb of the wasting of human lives on drug addiction. The Opium Wars greatly expanded Western influence in China, weakening the Chinese government and paving the way for internal uprisings.
In the 20th century China grew and sold its own opium until the Maoist communists took power in 1949 and ruthlessly eliminated most of the opium cultivation and trade. “Ten million addicts were forced into compulsory treatment, dealers were executed, and opium-producing regions were planted with new crops,” according to Wikipedia. But some Chinese opium production remained, finding a welcome new market in the 1960’s: American soldiers in Vietnam: “20 percent of soldiers regarding themselves as addicted during the peak of the epidemic in 1971.”
Present day, fentanyl and its chemically-similar ‘analogs’ come to Vermont through a supply chain that begins mostly in China (although Mexico and India also are growing sources). Drug traffickers ship it to the northeast, where hubs in Hartford, CT and Springfield MA then dispatch it to Vermont, often via I-91 through Windham County.
On April 16, The Vermont US Attorney’s office reported that an alleged Massachusetts drug trafficker was arraigned in federal court for selling more than 20,000 bags of heroin and fentanyl.
While the case hasn’t gone to court yet and those charged are innocent until proven guilty, a state police report as recently as April 27 may resemble how fentanyl arrives in Vermont through Springfield, MA. A St. Johnsbury woman previously charged with selling cocaine was arrested for possession of narcotics including fentanyl after police stopped a car driven by a Springfield, MA man on I-91 in Guilford, just south of Brattleboro.
Too often, death is the outcome. The Vermont State Police on April 23 arrested a Swanton woman on suspicion of selling drugs to a man in January who suffered a fatal overdose several hours later. On Jan. 21, 38-year-old Travis Bedard had been found unresponsive and could not be revived at his home on Carter Hill Road in Highgate. Detectives learned that the victim earlier that morning had traveled to the Swanton home of Sherry Johnson, 58, where he purchased a quantity of drugs including heroin and fentanyl. A search of Johnson’s home located drugs including heroin, fentanyl and crack cocaine, along with two firearms and $1,100 in cash. She was arrested for selling or dispensing a regulated drug with death resulting.
It’s not fair to say the Chinese government has done nothing to stop international drug trade, according to the Brookings Institute. In May 2019, under pressure from the U.S. government, China made the production, sale, and export of fentanyl “analogs” (similar but not the exact chemical formulation of fentanyl) legal if accompanied by government licenses. It also reportedly screens its mail for fentanyl. However, it shows little interest in screening for the ingredients (“precursor agents”) from which fentanyl is made. Thus these ingredients can be shipped with impunity to the United States, and then manufactured into fentanyl or an analog.
13% of all packages from China contain some form of contraband, including fentanyl and other deadly substances, Chang reports.