The Worldwide Fentanyl Trade
The thing that makes fentanyl so desirable to drug distributors is its strength alone. The fact that fentanyl is so concentrated and easy to transport by powder, patch, pill, or liquid, makes it all the more attractive to would-be dealers or traffickers. It comes down to a very basic understanding of the shipping economy. If you are looking at the costs and risks associated with shipping 50 kilograms of heroin, you could dramatically reduce those costs by switching to shipping fentanyl at 1 kilogram. The trafficker could practically ship this product in shoe boxes rather than having to use private planes, submersibles, or any other means used by smuggling networks.
Not to mention the sheer profitability of fentanyl. One kilogram of heroin could be purchased for around $6,000 US in Latin or South America. That can be shipped and moved to the United States and be sold for approximately $80,000 US. Fentanyl, on the other hand, has a much better turn ratio. One kilogram of fentanyl can be purchased in the same area for around $5,000 and be chopped up into 16-25 more Kilograms for a domestic sale price of $1.5 million (give or take about $100,000).
The desire for this high-grade opioid could also be because of a sort of boom/bust in opioid use. Doctors like to prescribe pharmaceutical-grade opioids for almost anything. There are two schools of thought as to why that is. On one hand, doctors have an obligation to “do no harm,” so by not prescribing a strong pain reliever they are in fact harming the patient. On the other hand, there is a financial incentive to prescribe certain pharmaceuticals to patients.
The result was a mass problem with some of the more familiar pharma-opioids, like Oxycontin, where patients became addicted to the drug quickly. After that had become apparent, state and federal agencies clamped down and made it harder to get these drugs and drove the price up. In doing that, the agencies failed to address the root problem of addiction. Naturally people who were addicted to the pharma-opioids sought other means of satisfying their addiction: Heroin, which is cheaper, more readily available, and relatively easy to procure.
Heroin has been making a significant return in the past decade because of this boom and bust. It’s a simple supply and demand business model, except the demand will never go down until the core issues of addiction are dealt with first. If your supply of Oxycontin gets cut off, you don’t stop selling drugs. You sell heroin in its place. Then once the DEA clamps down on the heroin trade, find a way to supplement the market, or create easier ways of bringing opioid highs to customers. Enter fentanyl.
And that’s essentially where we are now. It is basically the “Old Leaky Hose” metaphor: If a leak springs up in one spot and you fix it, a leak will spring up in another spot, even when realistically the easier and less costly solution would be to get rid of the hose and get a new one. In this case it would be a new way of thinking and combating the problem (we’ll get to that later).
So where is it coming from? The drug is coming from our typical routes like the Mexican and South American cartels, but increasingly, the Darknet is becoming a primary supplier of this drug. In an article published by Vice, they discuss a veritable “Walter White of Fentanyl” who in his short tenure on the deep web (approximately 7 months), sold nearly 400 grams of fentanyl. That is a rough equivalent of 100,000 pills. And that’s just one supplier on the Darknet. There could be many, many more suppliers offering a similar supply. Couple that with an ever-increasing technologically savvy generation, the only place that drug trafficking will go is to the Darkweb, and may soon overshadow Draconian cartels.
As far as the production side of the business, China is a perfect and likely place for it to be produced in mass and shipped across the world. In China, the production of these drugs are notoriously unregulated. Chinese groups will supply the cartels with the base products of fentanyl, like NPP, and already manufactured fentanyl for pennies on the dollar for the black market price of fentanyl to the cartels.
“The network often avoids efforts to stop it by trading not only in finished fentanyl but related products subject to little or no regulation in China or internationally. These include some copies of fentanyl known as analogs, as well as the chemical ingredients and pill presses used to produce the drug, according to the documents and interviews.” –The Wall Street Journal
In Canada, significant quantities are coming into ports from China, as VICE News reported earlier this year. Patches and pills, meanwhile, have been seized at Hell’s Angels clubhouses in Ontario, suggesting that the biker gang may be doing some of the domestic distribution themselves.
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