Fentanyl Abuse Could Impact Asia in the Future

Recent Fentanyl Overdoses in Asia Spark Concern

Currently, the opioid epidemic is claiming the lives of hundreds of Americans each day, and the most commonly abused opioids involved are prescription opioids like oxycodone and illicit opioids like heroin. In recent years, no drug has been of more concern to law enforcement and health care officials than fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that is 50-100 times stronger than heroin. Although the majority of the fentanyl sold on the streets in the United States come from China, the drug has been less of a concern in Asia until recently. That is apparently changing.

In a recent incident, three men abused synthetic opioids until overdosing in Thailand. Out of the 3 men, 1 overdosed in a harm reduction meeting, later surviving. A drug expert believed the men took a combination of fentanyl and heroin instead of heroin alone, further complicating the intensity of the substance use disorder.

Police searched a shipment from Bangkok, confirming the deadly combination. There were traces of fentanyl in a supply of heroin near southern China and “the Golden Triangle.” The Golden Triangle consists of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar and has a reputation for being a busy area for drug trafficking. Nevertheless, the number of recent opioid-related overdoses has shocked Thai authorities who are aware of the effect of the American opioid crisis.

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Opioid Abuse in Asian Countries

Despite China’s manufacturing of fentanyl, many are concerned with the spreading of opioids like fentanyl in Asian countries. Trends in steadily increasing global opioid abuse reveal it is not just a problem in America. In 2011, there were 2,366 individuals in China who abused heroin, 247 in Indonesia, 170 in Malaysia, 155 in Vietnam, 60 in South Korea, and 41 in Japan. While these numbers are comparatively low, they are still concerning, reflecting the possibility of dangerous illicit opioids like fentanyl gaining popularity in East Asia. Along with opioid abuse via injection, there are new cases in HIV due to sharing dirty needles emerging in Asian communities.

In 2016 and 2017, the United States law enforcement seized Chinese-sourced fentanyl, which was “97%” of the supply of drug seized.

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China’s Stance on Fentanyl

China has been deemed responsible for exporting much of America’s fentanyl supply. Presently, buyers can purchase fentanyl online, getting in contact with a Chinese seller. Within a few weeks, the recipient would receive the packaged of fentanyl in the mail. In 2016 and 2017, the United States law enforcement seized Chinese-sourced fentanyl, which was “97% of the drug seized.” As a result, China has been shutting down the fentanyl trade.

Since then China has become stricter with fentanyl, putting 91 manufacturers of fentanyl and 234 distributors out of business. By the end of 2019, U.S. custom agents seized 2,545 pounds of fentanyl, increasing from 70 pounds in previous years. This is a growing trend considering the history of meth production in select Southeast Asian regions.

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Fearing for the Worst

Despite China’s strict laws, officials fear for Asia’s exposure to opioids. Perceptions include America’s ability to handle such threats; Asian countries may not be so prepared. Historically, the British empire dabbled in opium sales from India, selling to other Asian countries. Illicit opioids like fentanyl, carfentanil, and heroin have a powerful effect on the brain, enabling people to endure a variety of emotions and moods. Once people try to stop cold turkey, they endure a host of uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Some of these can include anxiety, depression, irritability, nausea, and sweating.

Fentanyl is highly addictive, producing euphoric feelings. Carfentanil is a more dangerous substance, one of the strongest synthetic opioids in existence. Such opioids can wreak havoc the mind and body, becoming extremely difficult to quit without effective treatment methods. Many fear drug dealers combining carfentail or fentanyl with heroin, creating a more dangerous supply of illicit opioids.

People hope fentanyl abuse in Asian countries remain low, and officials continue to monitor opioid overdoses.

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