Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Friday, August 28, 2020

Missouri's Fentanyl Problem: Its Path to the United States

 "MX" for Borderland Beat; The Salem News

Fentanyl is a serious threat to Missourians. In November 2017, a man was caught on i-55 carrying almost fve pounds of fentanyl—enough to kill 40 times the population of New Madrid County, where police stopped him (source: Safe Medicines).

There are two major means of entry of illegal synthetic opioids into the U.S.: a route into the U.S. by the postal service, and routes into the U.S. used by drug traffickers. In both cases, Chinese chemical factories are the source of these synthetic opioids arriving in the U.S.

Clandestine laboratories in Mexico convert Chinese fentanyl precursors to fentanyl and combine IMF with heroin. The Mexican cartels “tend to use crude methods” to make it and “they just take the fentanyl and stir it with a spoon,” said Doug Coleman of the DEA. Illegal fentanyl is then trafficked into the U.S. market, already combined with heroin and other drugs. The U.S. General Accountability Office has determined that Canada, as well as Mexico, is a supply route for drug traffickers.

American drug dealers can order fentanyl and analogues to be sent by mail from China, often diverted through another country. One Chinese drug dealer who operates openly on the Chinese social media WeChat said that sending drugs through the Chinese mail to the U.S. is easy: “We have our people in the postal companies.” Chinese sources can be found on the Internet that will ship fentanyl analogues that are still legal in China.

Chinese dealers can also provide fentanyl and analogues that are now illegal in China, using underground sites on the dark web and accepting payment for the drugs with underground currency such as Bitcoin. Shipment within the U.S. for all these drugs is illegal, so packages are misleadingly labeled and often shipped via other countries to avoid seizure by U.S. authorities. Unfortunately, most packages arrive to the U.S. drug dealer or consumer intact.

New fentanyl analogues from Chinese factories

One reason for the proliferation of fentanyl analogues is that many of these variants are still legal in China. Despite ongoing negotiations with the U.S., the Chinese government chooses not to regulate the entire class of fentanyl drugs but instead regulates fentanyl itself and a subset of fentanyl analogues, which it schedules one at a time, if it chooses to schedule them at all. A New York Times article describes the Chinese chemical industry as “vast, and poorly supervised, with between 160,000 and 400,000 chemical companies operating legally, illegally, or somewhere in between.”

Besides fentanyl and analogues, the industry produces large quantities of inexpensive generic drugs and pharmaceutical ingredients used by more advanced pharmaceutical companies to synthesize more profitable medicines.

Chinese chemists are adept at developing new analogues not yet regulated in China or other countries, and their companies can sell these legally on the Internet without penalties in China, staying a step ahead of the Chinese government.

In this way, Chinese chemical factories can follow Chinese regulations and continue to sell fentanyl analogues and precursors on the open Internet. Local authorities favor industrial growth, which is substantial for the thousands of successful Chinese chemical companies.

There are many ways to modify fentanyl and retain activity; thus, dozens of new compounds continue to be created. Fentanyl is modified by replacement of its propionyl chain or by replacement of its ethylphenyl moiety. The resulting analogues are further modified by substitution with fluoro-, chloro-, or methoxy- groups at the N-phenyl ring, to create analogues such as isobutyryl fentanyl-alpha-methylfentanyl butanamide. Toxicology reports from overdose victims increasingly demonstrate a number of fentanyl analogues such as acryl fentanyl.

Wuhan, China is headquarters for Chinese fentanyl, fentanyl precursor production

“The bulk of them (fentanyl precursors) seemed to come from a single corporation,” run by Ye Chuan Fe, purportedly “once the richest man in Wuhan.” Fe controls Yuancheng Group, a legal conglomerate that includes many chemical manufacturers that produce a wide array of chemicals, from food additives to pharmaceuticals. Yuancheng’s success has been repeatedly praised by Communist Party officials. Another chemical company based in Wuhan selling fentanyl and analogs is 5A Pharmatech, led by Yan Xiaobing, who was placed on the Justice Department’s list of international drug traffickers.

Chinese chemical and pharmaceutical companies “continue to operate with little oversight,” concluded a 2017 report about fentanyl from the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. Conditions in these labs vary. Some labs are clean and up to U.S. pharmaceutical standards. However retired DEA agent Dennis Wichern, said, “Some of the pictures of these Chinese labs are sickening. It reminds me of the old meth-lab days when I worked in Missouri.”

A newsletter in 2020 from Ben Westhoff stated that disruption in the supply chain of fentanyl from China resulted in a shortage of opioids available from dealers. This, in addition to social distancing measures and fears regarding COVID-19, resulted in increased difficulty in obtaining drugs. Very preliminary data demonstrated a transient decrease in opioid-related deaths in the St. Louis area. Dr. Rachel Winograd, Associate Professor at UMSL’s Missouri Institute of Mental Health and founder of and, heard from partners on the ground who noticed an increase in people who use drugs who say, in effect, it is “impossible to find my drug of choice. I’m ready to talk about treatment.”

Police in Jefferson County and Phelps County confirmed that prices for narcotics on the street rose somewhat.


  1. MX.Scary article but necessary. Having over 40+ years of recovery, I feel like I can read this article and honestly make comments. Looking back on my own heroin addiction as a young adult,I admit I probably would have used this drug. Unfortunately, being a heroin addict I like many others don't care what is in the drug,as long as you can find it. Heroin addiction means without it, you feel like you're going to die if you don't have it. Heroin becomes your master.There are probably a huge group of addicts that got to heroin due to pill addiction. Such a trap. It is neverending once you move to heroin. It took a possible prison sentence and forced 90 days at a psych.hosipal(there were no perhaps back then) to scare me straight. I can't blame my boyfriend who gave me heroin first or for me to believe he as a lawyer was really also a major heroin trafficker. I chose to do it and when he got busted by the DEA, I could have gotten 30 years..just for living with him...a huge lie by the DEA. I never thought I'd be arrested. So,as far as understanding the horrific problems going on,the only option available is what I do for a living now,treatment and counseling. In Houston there are many free options to help. Over 4k people a year get free treatment just through 1 program. The key of course is if the patient wants help. Or,the judge orders it. Either way there is help available. For those wanting to get clean, please find help. Many thanks for not only the article but for just giving me a place to offer help. Just saying. Peace

    1. My brother was on drugs til he hung himself at 26.. he was on H in the 11th grade. I know the whole progression. Its different now then it was in the 80s and early 90s. But you're right... theres help around everywhere if you want it. Some just dont want it.

  2. I could be wrong so someone correct me, but what is the punishment in China for using/selling heroin in China itself? I imagine they are not at all lenient.
    Maybe if they had their own massive drug problem, the providers and their enablers would be less inclined to manufacture and distribute these chemical precursers worldwide?
    It may work out in their favor for awhile, but as we have seen time again and again, the ball eventually bounces back.

    1. I remember watching faces of death in the 80’s as a kid. They had a segment that included the Chinese Opiod crisis back in the days. They executed the addicts publicly to deter use and abuse. In the video clip I saw, there were several thousand addicts lined up and the government was shooting them in the head one by one.

    2. Hi 8:42. In China if you're caught with less than 10 grams you could possibly not get charged but depending on what district you could get 7 years. Over 50 grams death by firing squad.Between less than 50 but more than 10 grams,7 to 15 years. The really don't have rehab there. Friends of mine who've traveled there to help with other medical issues like HIV/AIDS,which is a huge problem. They tell me that there are many opium dens,those have been around for hundreds of years. After that many many Chinese are using crystal meth and even the taxi cab drivers told them since they now have meth they can now work for 20 hours straight. Many Asian countries are seeing the same problem. The Chinese Government will never admit there's a drug problem. Hope this helps. Peace.

    3. In China it is a public execution

  3. 8:52 if you are an independent producer or trafficker or addict buying from not connected sources, you will be in very deep shit, in Mexico, China or the US...john DeLorean never went to prison or court or anythin', furthermore, "he was entrapped"

  4. 8;52
    china does have a drug problem a big one
    They are just very tough laws
    But dont think they Dont have a Drug addicts Read more on Meth Users in China and dont forget good ol meth
    is among the worst in EVERY COUNTRY
    please read more about drug addicts
    just one place has tough laws dosent mean they Dont have users


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