Congressman Chris Smith today pressed representatives of the State Department and the Drug Enforcement Agency to use the tools prescribed in the Global Magnitsky Act to sanction bad actors in China who are contributing to the opioid overdose crisis in the United States through the manufacture and distribution of the synthetic drug fentanyl.
“Chinese-made fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is killing Americans—more than 29,000 in 2017 alone,” Smith said. “We must hold the Chinese government accountable.”(Click here to read Chairman Smith’s full opening statement)
“Are we using existing tools to hold bad actors in China accountable? We have tools, such as the Global Magnitsky Act, which targets corrupt officials and human rights abusers. Perhaps it is time we start thinking outside the box and use something like Global Magnitsky to ensure that corrupt Chinese officials and narco-traffickers are held to account,” Smith said during a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Global Heath, which he chairs.
Named for Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian accountant who died in a Russian prison in 2009 after being tortured and denied medical treatment, the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act empowers the president to block or revoke the U.S. visas for foreign people and entities as well as to impose property sanctions such as freezing assets in the U.S. banking system. Sanctions can be imposed for “extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights,” or (b) if they are government officials or senior associates of government officials complicit in “acts of significant corruption,” according to Human Rights Watch.
Kirsten D. Madison, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, testified that China is “a primary source of illicit synthetic drugs coming to the United States.” (Clickhere to read Madison’s full testimony)
Paul E. Knierim, Deputy Chief of Operations at the Office of Global Enforcement for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), stated in his testimony that “China is one of the world’s top producers of the precursor chemicals used to manufacture methamphetamine and fentanyl, as well as the chemicals used to process heroin and cocaine.” (Click here to read Knierim’s full testimony)
A leading prosecutor from Smith’s Congressional district, Joseph Coronato, of Ocean County, NJ, called China-made fentanyl into the U.S. a “synthetic storm” that is “devastating,” but highlighted his program that allows drug abusers to voluntarily turn themselves in to a police station—more than 800 since 2017—without being prosecuted. Smith said the program has “almost certainly reduced deaths.”
Still, based on his medical examiner toxicology analysis, Coronato said “that in 2014, 10 percent of overdose deaths had fentanyl in their systems. In 2018, fentanyl-related deaths have jumped to 80 percent.”
Coronato also said “synthetics will become the predominate type of illegal drugs abused within the next 5 years” and that “in many instances” it is being sold “right over the internet.”
Smith also said he voted for the House-passed “Synthetics and Overdose Prevention Act, to require the U.S. Postal Service (as private carriers like UPS and Fed-Ex are currently required to do) to obtain advance electronic data (AED)—detailed info on the shipper and addressee and other data—empowering Customs and Border Protection to target fentanyl and other illegal drug shipments.”
Bryce Pardo of the RAND Corporation testified that the potency of fentanyl has sharply increased the number of opioid overdoses. “The crisis was initially fueled by oversupply of prescription painkillers, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone. Yet, in 2017, synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, were involved in approximately 60 percent of all opioid overdose deaths,” Pardo stated in his testimony. “Today’s drug overdose crisis now surpasses major public health epidemics of prior generations, including the HIV/AIDS epidemic,” Pardo stated. (Click here to read Pardo’s full testimony)
Smith recognized Don Holman, who lost his son Garrett to an overdose of synthetic fentanyl that came directly from China. In written testimony, Mr. Holman reports that Garrett ordered it online; it was delivered in the mail without Garrett ever knowing of the poisonous effects fentanyl has.
Last week, Smith spoke at the Mercer County International Overdose Awareness Day sponsored by Prosecutor Angelo Onofri and Robbinsville Mayor David Fried. Personal testimonies offered by survivors and recovering abusers were deeply moving.
Trenton Police Chief Pedro Medina spoke of the loss of his son, Petey, but assured the audience that there is a “God who can help you.” Advocate Mark Manning, who lost his son Christopher, spoke of his ongoing pain at the loss of his son, while Adrienne Petta of Hamilton recounted the horrors of her addiction and the impact on her family. She mentioned her two children, who she said she put in second place compared to a bag of the drugs. Adrienne made it through, and is now a recovery specialist.