A Chinese online pharmacy advertising itself as a seller of “high purity, real pure” fentanyl responds right away to potential customers. “Which products do you want to buy,” a salesperson replied within a minute to an inquiry in English on WhatsApp, the encrypted messaging service. When contacted from a U.S. telephone number and asked about the availability of fentanyl, the seller said, “I don’t sell any more,” reports the New York Times. Until recently, much of the illicit fentanyl that found its way to the U.S. was easily ordered online from a source in China and seamlessly shipped by international delivery companies, including the U.S. Postal Service. Fentanyl sourced from China accounted for 97 percent of the drug seized from international mail services by U.S. law enforcement in both the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
China’s government is taking steps to stop the flood, as leader Xi Jinping promised President Donald Trump he would. After two leaders met in Buenos Aires at the Group of 20 summit last year, the White House said, “President Xi, in a wonderful humanitarian gesture, has agreed to designate fentanyl as a controlled substance.” As a result, the large, freewheeling and mostly unregulated fentanyl industry that had operated in a gray area of Chinese law appears to have stopped selling the drug for export, at least as openly as hundreds of suppliers once did. Some distributors, who still can be easily found in online searches, claimed to be complying with the new rules banning the overseas sale of synthetic opioids. Others appear to have shut down operations. China’s new focus on shutting down the trade has meant shipments of fentanyl to the U.S. have declined significantly in the last year, say data from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.