As availability of prescription opioids declines US lawmakers fight to keep Chinese fentanyl at bay

Jun 12, 2019

The availability of prescription opioids on the street may be declining in Michigan, according to officials with the justice department.


Since 2010 officials say roughly 100 doctors and pharmacists have been prosecuted for over-prescribing opioids.

Wayne Pratt is head of the Health Care Fraud Unit out of the US Attorneys Office for the Eastern District of Michigan. At the State and Regional Tribal Opioid Summit held at Soaring Eagle Casino today Pratt said a 30 milligram pill of oxycodone used to sell for 20 dollars. It now sells for about 40.

“That tells us we are having an impact on the supply and availability of that drug on the street market which means that fewer people are going to be using it and it means there’s less that’s out there in the street market.”

Wayne Pratt

Pratt said the increased cost will have some negative consequences.

“We are sort of going to have this reservoir of people who were on the prescription drugs who now that they are becoming more expensive and are becoming harder to get they are going to shift over to the heroin and fentanyl. I think that’s really been happening.”

According to data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse synthetic opioid overdose deaths - which are largely caused by fentanyl - increased 1900% between 2012 and 2017.

Pratt said according to their intelligence, Michigan, which was previously a supplier of prescription opioids to other states, no longer is.

In the US Senate efforts are underway to reduce the flow of illicit fentanyl into the country.

US Senator Gary Peters last week introduced legislation to bring sanctions against Chinese opioid manufacturers.

Chinese officials have denied they are a major contributor to the US opioid epidemic, but according to a 2018 report from the Economic Security and Review Commission, China “remains the largest source of illicit fentanyl in the United States.”

“We need to crackdown on the Chinese,” Peters said. “We need to go after these distribution centers. My legislation will allow us to use financial sanctions against the Chinese to stop this production and distribution.”

In April, Chinese officials announced they would close a loophole allowing fentanyl manufacturers to avoid having to classify fentanyl-like drugs as controlled substances.

US Officials, however, raised concerns about China’s ability to enforce that rule.

Peters said the Chinese government has not done enough to stem the tide of opioids coming to the US.

“We believe the Chinese government is aware of this activity, has not taken action, and we need to let the Chinese Government know in no uncertain terms that this is unacceptable and financial sanctions may be placed on them if they do not help us deal with this crisis.”

Peters said his bill would allow for sanctions against manufacturers and traffickers of synthetic opioids.

He did not comment on how possible sanctions could impact ongoing trade negotiations with the Chinese government.