2018 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report and the Opioid Crisis

The U.S. State Department has published its annual two volume report consisting of Volume 1, Drugs and Chemical Control and Volume 2, Money Laundering.  The report identifies countries which are either major illicit drug producers, drug-transit countries, sources of precursor chemicals used in illicit drug production, or where drug controls are an important part of the national policy. These countries are evaluated to determine the extent to which they are fulfilling the objectives of the 1988 UN Drug Convention.  The report also identifies countries at the nexus of the illicit drug trade and money laundering activities, present within the countries’ financial institutions. The report discusses synthetic drug trends which are of significant concern for the U.S.

Concerns about opioid overdoses and the increased prevalence of synthetic drugs in the illicit drug market are present in the report. According to the report, “China is a major source of NPS and other synthetic drugs, including fentanyl and methamphetamine, and domestic use of synthetic drugs (primarily methamphetamine and ketamine) is becoming increasingly prevalent. China’s large chemical and pharmaceutical industries provide an ideal environment for the illicit production and export of these drugs.” The report demonstrates that the U.S. is prioritizing the focus on synthetic drugs which are contributing to the opioid crisis.

While China is seen as a source of synthetic drugs and precursors Mexico is more of a transit country for synthetic drugs such as fentanyl. The report describes this trend, “Increased seizures at the U.S.–Mexico border suggest a rise in fentanyl trafficking. Synthetic drugs are increasingly transported in poly-drug loads and sometimes pressed into pills disguised as prescription medications for sale in illicit markets.” The report also states, “There is no indication fentanyl is being used domestically in Mexico.”

The impact of synthetic opioids is described by the report’s findings, “Specifically in the United States, fentanyl-related overdose deaths in the first half of 2017 jumped 70 percent over the same six-month period in 2016. In Canada, fentanyl was responsible for hundreds of overdose deaths in 2017 […] In the United Kingdom, British authorities attribute over 60 overdose deaths to fentanyl in 2017.”

Among the challenges and seemingly rampant proliferation of illicit drugs, the report does acknowledge that countries, either on their own or through bilateral cooperation, are working to combat this problem. The report highlights the need for a targeted strategy aimed at addressing the unique challenges faced by individual countries. However, the most effective means of reducing the prevalence of illicit drugs and precursor chemicals will be through partnered cooperation and strong-binding international agreements.