HOW OUR NATION’S INTERNATIONAL AND DIPLOMATIC TOOLS ARE HELPING COMBAT THE EPIDEMIC
The State Department has made combating the opioid epidemic a priority, with Assistant Secretary Kirsten Madison of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs telling Congress, “We understand that the work we do to forge partnerships and consensus, to secure international cooperation, and to use foreign assistance to build the capacity of our partners to help disrupt the flow of opioids and other illicit narcotics to our country is about one thing: contributing to a larger effort in our country to save America lives, American families, and American communities.”
Leveraging Diplomatic Tools to Curb the Production of Synthetic Opioids
- Recognizing the threat, the State Department is working with other countries to curb the production of synthetic opioids. After diplomatic pressure from the United States to cut Chinese production, Beijing banned all fentanyl-related drugs in April 2019. This has enabled Chinese and U.S. officials to carry out joint investigations and prosecute producers and distributors in China.
- Through concerted international engagement, U.S. diplomats successfully advocated for the UN Commission on Narcotics Control to strictly regulate the leading chemicals used to produce fentanyl, making the creation of the drug in other nations increasingly difficult.
- The State Department is also working to prevent the creation of new synthetic opioids which can be even more deadly. The U.S. recently secured a unanimous vote at the UN to put carfentanil, a synthetic opioid 10,000 times more potent than morphine, under tighter controls.
- At the UN General Assembly in 2018, the U.S. convinced 130 countries to sign an agreement to combat the global drug problem, pledging to strengthen international cooperation on law enforcement, education, justice, and health, and cut off the supply by stopping production.
How International Programs Are Cracking Down on the Flow of Opioids from Overseas
- The State Department is pressing other countries to increase the collection of electronic information on the contents and source of packages shipped to the United States, which will help the U.S. Postal Service halt the flow of packages containing synthetic opioids from producers abroad. Unlike private carriers – like UPS, FedEx, and DHL who can choose to deny service from suspect customers – the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is currently required by international agreements to deliver all the mail it receives from other countries. Currently, USPS is only able to gather advanced electronic data on 36% of all international packages to ensure dangerous drugs do not enter the United States.
- The State Department’s Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) is spearheading the “Merida Initiative” to partner with Mexican law enforcement to stop the flow of drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border. One recent success is the Mexican police’s seizure of thousands of fentanyl pills hidden in coffee and shoes through the use of canines trained to detect fentanyl. These dogs were provided to Mexican police through a partnership with the State Department.
- With support from U.S. diplomats, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime created a system for monitoring illicit crop cultivation in Mexico through satellite imagery and aerial photographs. This information enabled the Mexican army to destroy nearly 200,000 plots of poppy in 2017, up 22% from the previous year.