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Blinken warns deadly fentanyl crisis will spread globally

United States Secretary of State Anthony Blinken speaks at the 67th Session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, Austria, Friday, March 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Theresa Wey)
Theresa Wey
United States Secretary of State Anthony Blinken speaks at the 67th Session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, Austria, Friday, March 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Theresa Wey)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned on Friday that countries around the world will soon face the kind of fentanyl drug crisis that's killing tens of thousands of people each year in the U.S.

Blinken spoke at a United Nations conference in Vienna, Austria, focused on the spread of narcotics and synthetic street drugs.

"In many ways we've been a canary in the coal mine, particularly when it comes to fentanyl, Blinken said. "It hit us hard, it hit us first, but unfortunately not last. And we can see its ravages taking hold in other countries."

Blinken was the first U.S. Secretary of State to address the annual U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

Experts say fentanyl spread fastest in the U.S. because of powerful Mexican cartels, trafficking the substance across the southern border.

"Synthetic drugs are now the number one killer of Americans age 18 to 45," Blinken noted, though he said the surge in drug deaths appears to have leveled off.

Unlike heroin, which is made from plant-based raw materials, fentanyl is made in labs from industrial chemicals, often sourced in China.

According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdose deaths are now killing more than 110,000 people in the U.S. every year. The U.S. lacks low-cost drug treatment and healthcare programs available in many other developed countries, which have seen far fewer impacts from fentanyl.

But many drug policy experts expect fentanyl to make inroads because the drug is so profitable and easy to make.

Blinken said unless nations work together to slow fentanyl trafficking, overdose deaths will keep rising around the world.

"If we want to change the trajectory of this crisis, there is only one way to proceed and that's together," he said.

Public officials, however, say slowing illegal production and trafficking of synthetic drugs will be uniquely challenging.

"The criminal groups that produce these drugs are agile," Blinken acknowledged.

"When one country cracks down on production of a synthetic drug or the chemical precursors that go into making them, criminals quickly find another place to produce them."

The Biden administration has faced fierce criticism from Republicans, who say the U.S. isn't doing enough to halt fentanyl smuggling.

Over the past year, Blinken and other U.S. officials have held high-level talks with counterparts in Mexico and China, encouraging them to do more to crack down on fentanyl supply chains.

Meanwhile, addiction experts say fentanyl, methamphetamines, nitazines, xylazine and other toxic synthetic street drugs remain cheap and widely available available across the U.S.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Brian Mann
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.
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