Chinese Fentanyl Suppliers in Wuhan Switched to Selling Face Masks

Daniel Greenfield, Wuhan, also known as Satan’s Little Acre, didn’t just generate and spread a virus that has killed tens of thousands of Americans, and countless people around the world, it’s also a major source for the fentanyl drug precursor export business.

Fentanyl is wreaking havoc in America. Chinese companies openly sell the precursor chemicals to cartels. And we’ve done nothing about it because saving American lives always takes a back seat to the agenda of those dependent on China.

Now some of the fentanyl suppliers have figured out another way to make money, sell fake face masks to America.

Wuhan was the fentanyl capital of the world. Then the coronavirus hit – Los Angeles Times

The horror, the humanity.

For drug traffickers interested in getting in on the fentanyl business, all roads once led to Wuhan. The sprawling industrial city built along the Yangtze River in east-central China is known for its production of chemicals, including the ingredients needed to cook fentanyl and other powerful synthetic opioids.

Is there a reason we shouldn’t cut off access from Wuhan to America?

Vendors there shipped huge quantities around the world. The biggest customers were Mexican drug cartels, which have embraced fentanyl in recent years because it is cheaper and easier to produce than heroin.

But the novel coronavirus that emerged in Wuhan late last year before spreading across the planet has upended the fentanyl supply chain, causing a ripple effect that has cut into the profits of Mexican traffickers and driven up street drug prices across the United States.

Both drugs are made with precursor chemicals that are typically sent on planes or cargo ships from China, where despite U.S. pressure to ban them, they continue to be sold legally.

In February, after a major manufacturer of the chemicals closed, vendors began posting apologies on the online sites where chemicals are typically sold, said Louise Shelley, a professor at George Mason University who tracks global fentanyl production.

Logan Pauley, a researcher at C4ADS, a Washington-based think tank focused on transnational security, also noticed a decrease in advertisements for fentanyl precursors. He said vendors switched to selling other products, including face masks and anti-malarial drugs that some doctors and politicians initially hoped would help treat the coronavirus.

The drop in exports has left some Mexican drug producers with less access to needed chemicals.

A lot of states, countries, and organizations have been willing to pay any price for PPE, sight unseen, and that’s created a boom in Chinese businesses rapidly claiming to make and ship masks, tests, etc, that turn out to be worthless garbage.

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That’s particularly infuriating when you consider that the fentanyl suppliers who have been killing so many Americans are now shipping worthless masks that may kill Americans.

Once again, Made in China is treason to America.

The Zheng drug trafficking organization was hardly clandestine. The Shanghai-based network sold synthetic narcotics, including deadly fentanyl, on websites posted in 35 languages, from Arabic and English to Icelandic and Uzbek.

The Chinese syndicate bragged that its laboratory could “synthesize nearly any” drug and that it churned out 16 tons of illicit chemicals a month. The group was so adept at smuggling, and so brazen in its marketing, that it offered a money-back guarantee to buyers if its goods were seized by U.S. or other customs agents.

Over the last decade, federal officials say, the Zheng group mailed and shipped fentanyl and similar illicit chemicals to customers in more than 25 countries and 35 U.S. states. U.S. officials say the syndicate’s success, laid bare in a recent federal indictment, partly helps explain America’s skyrocketing death toll from drug overdoses.

Fentanyl, 50 times more potent than heroin, and related laboratory-crafted drugs have become the No. 1 cause of opioid-related overdose deaths. And rogue chemical companies in China — operating openly and outside the reach of U.S. authorities — are the largest single source of the deadly drugs, law enforcement officials say.

“People in labs in China are producing this substance that is killing Americans,” Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein said in an interview. “This is a real crisis. The Chinese government has the ability to stop this if they want to. We believe they should want to do that.”

U.S. officials have pushed Beijing to shut down the labs, and say Chinese authorities have taken steps to police chemical makers. The push comes even as relations with Beijing have grown acrimonious amid an escalating trade war and U.S. unease over China’s increasing economic and military clout.

Nearly 29,000 people died last year in the United States from overdoses linked to synthetic opioids, a category that experts say is dominated by fentanyl and its chemical cousins — a staggering surge from the 3,100 such deaths reported in 2013.

One reason for the spike: The drug is so powerful that a sugar-packet-sized bag of fentanyl can contain 500 lethal doses. That also means it can be smuggled through the mail in what officials call micro-shipments that are far harder to identify and interdict than bulkier loads of heroin, cocaine or marijuana.

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Chinese companies send fentanyl in small quantities to dealers in the United States or Canada, but ship the drugs in bulk to criminal cartels in Mexico. The cartels then mix the synthetics into heroin and other substances, or press them into counterfeit pills. The product is then smuggled across the border.

While total fentanyl seizures more than doubled last year, to 1,196 pounds, officials say far more of the illicit drug is getting through. Some of the biggest fentanyl seizures have been in California because of the Mexican connection.

Last month, for example, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents seized 52 pounds of powdered fentanyl at the Pine Valley checkpoint near San Diego — and that wasn’t a record. In December, officers discovered nearly 80 pounds in a college student’s car.

This summer, authorities discovered 20,000 fentanyl pills in a hidden compartment of a Mini Cooper at the San Ysidro checkpoint, a week after confiscating 11,500 pills in another vehicle.

U.S. drug dealers also purchase directly from China with a few clicks of a computer mouse on company websites or shopping in so-called dark web drug bazaars, where communications are encrypted and dealers often pay with cryptocurrencies or gift cards that are difficult to trace.

A 33-year-old Long Beach man, for example, was sentenced in June to more than 26 years in federal prison for illegally importing chemicals in bulk from China, including a fentanyl analog, and then producing tens of thousands of pills in a homemade lab.

When agents raided his lab, federal prosecutors said, they seized more than 11 kilograms of acetyl fentanyl, an analog 15 times more powerful than morphine. During a nine-month span, prosecutors said, the Long Beach lab sold an estimated 300,000 pills nationwide.

In Utah, a former Eagle Scout is awaiting trial in Salt Lake City after he and five others were charged with turning his mother’s basement into an illicit pill lab. When her house was raided in November 2016, police found 70,000 pills laced with fentanyl and $1.2 million in cash, prosecutors said. The group allegedly sold hundreds of thousands of the pills on the dark web.

The ease with which dealers can buy fentanyl from China “is a challenge because it’s creating traffickers who are not affiliated with larger organizations or with cartels,” said Paul Knierim, a top Drug Enforcement Administration official.

It isn’t hard to find fentanyl and similar drugs on the internet, and sales tactics rival those of online retailers, according to federal investigators.