The US on Tuesday imposed sanctions on 17 people and entities based in China and Mexico who it accused of enabling counterfeit, fentanyl-laced pill production, as the Biden administration seeks to stem imports of the deadly drug.
The US Treasury Department in a statement said it slapped sanctions on seven entities and six people based in China, as well as one business and three people based in Mexico.
It accused those targeted of being involved in the sale of pill press machines and other equipment used to impress counterfeit trade markings onto illicitly produced pills, often laced with fentanyl and destined for the United States.
“Treasury’s sanctions target every stage of the deadly supply chain fueling the surge in fentanyl poisonings and deaths across the country,” the Treasury’s Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Brian Nelson, said in the statement.
“Counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl constitute a leading cause of these deaths, devastating thousands of American families each year. We remain committed to using all authorities against enablers of illicit drug production to disrupt this deadly global production and counter the threat posed by these drugs.”
The rate of drug overdose deaths involving the synthetic opioid fentanyl more than tripled in the United States from 2016 through 2021, according to a report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released earlier this month.
Fentanyl is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, and has increasingly been mixed with other illicit drugs often with lethal results.
The Biden administration has been pushing for action as US drug-related overdose deaths surpassed 100,000 in 2021, according to government estimates.
Washington has been seeking greater help from Beijing in stemming the illicit flow of fentanyl “precursor” chemicals from China, but US officials have told Reuters that Chinese counterparts have been reluctant to cooperate as relations between the two countries have soured.