Chinese officials have countered that the United States is to blame for a domestic opioid addiction crisis.
The United States Department of Justice has filed criminal charges against four Chinese companies accused of smuggling ingredients used to make the addictive painkiller fentanyl.
The three indictments unsealed Friday are the first time the government has tried to prosecute China-based companies and individuals for bringing fentanyl ingredients into the United States and Mexico.
“I vowed that the Justice Department would never forget the victims of the fentanyl epidemic,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement Friday. “I promised that we will not stop working to hold those responsible accountable.”
He explained that his department’s strategy goes beyond targeting Mexican drug cartel leaders by going after their suppliers. He said Chinese chemical companies are “providing the cartels with the building blocks they need to make the deadly fentanyl”.
In addition to the four Chinese companies, eight employees and executives were also charged in Friday’s filing.
The United States is in the grip of an ongoing opioid crisis, with more than 564,000 people dying from overdoses between 1999 and 2020. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, has increasingly fueled the crisis in recent years.
Before that, however, US drug manufacturers had driven the crisis by aggressively promoting highly addictive products like OxyContin.
As steps were taken to curb the availability of those drugs, illegal substances like heroin and then fentanyl filled the void. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2021, a staggering 107,000 overdose deaths were recorded in the United States. Of that number, more than 70,000 were attributed to fentanyl and other synthetic opiates.
In Friday’s indictment, federal prosecutors alleged that Chinese companies marketed the fentanyl precursor chemical on their websites and social media accounts. They then sold the material to the Sinaloa drug cartel and other criminal groups in Mexico, which have smuggled fentanyl into the United States for years.
The causes of the overdose crisis are complex, and some have accused the U.S. government of seeking an easy win by focusing enforcement action against criminal gangs in countries like Mexico.
A Chinese embassy spokesman condemned Friday’s accusations, saying the United States is trying to scapegoat China for its domestic drug crisis. It accused the judiciary of “long-arm jurisdiction”.
“The incident was a well-planned entrapment operation by the US side, which seriously violated the legitimate rights of relevant enterprises and individuals,” said embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu. “China strongly condemns it.”