China's fentanyl ban a 'game-changer' for opioid epidemic, DEA officials say

Story highlights

  • China to ban the manufacture of four variations of the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl
  • "It's a potential game-changer," a DEA official says

(CNN)China will ban the manufacture and sale of four variations of the synthetic drug fentanyl starting March 1, a move that US Drug Enforcement Administration officials call a "game-changer" for the United States' battle with manufactured opioids.

DEA spokesman Russ Baer confirmed that China made the announcement Wednesday night, after six months of talks between the Chinese and US governments. That included a January visit by acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg -- the first DEA administrator to go to China in more than a decade -- to to discuss the issue.
"It's been a great exchange, and this is great news. It's a potential game-changer," Baer said.
    The ban will stop carfentanil, furanyl fentanyl, acrylfentanyl and valeryl fentanyl from being legally manufactured and sold in China, effective March 1. That could have a big impact on illegal imports to the United States, as China is the main supplier of fentanyl to the US.
    "The significance of that cannot be underestimated as it relates to the impact in the US," Baer said.
    In October 2015, China banned more than 100 synthetic chemicals, including some fentanyl products. But Baer says there's an ongoing battle between legislation and clandestine labs; each time one substance is banned, a new one pops up to replace it.
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    And, he said, it "goes to show the proliferation of synthetic opioids is a global problem."
    Fentanyl is considered to be 25 to 50 times stronger than heroin and up to 100 times more potent than morphine, and it has caused deaths across the nation as it has become a cheaper and more potent replacement for other opioids.
    Death rates from synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, increased 72.2% in the United States from 2014 to 2015, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced in December.