Fri, Jun 26, 2015 - Page 9 News List

China corners an illicit
drug market

The nation is a leading producer and exporter of synthetic drugs, including methamphetamine, as well as the compounds used to manufacture them

By Dan Levin  /  NY Times News Service, SHANGHAI

Illustration: Mountain People

Ordering illegal drugs from China is as easy as typing on a keyboard.

On, more than 150 Chinese companies sell alpha-PVP, also known as flakka, a stimulant that is illegal in the US, but not in China and was blamed for 18 recent deaths in one Florida county.

The e-commerce portal Qinjiayuan sells air-conditioners, trampolines and a banned hallucinogen known as spice, which set off a devastating spike in US emergency room visits in April.

The stimulant mephedrone, sometimes sold as “bath salts,” is banned in China, but readily for sale at the Nanjing Takanobu Chemical Co for about US$1,400 per pound (0.45kg).

“I can handle this for you legally or illegally,” a company salesman said by telephone when asked about shipping the product overseas from China.

“How much do you want?” he asked.

In a country that has perfected the art of Internet censorship, the open online drug market is a blatant example of what international law enforcement officials say is China’s reluctance to take action as it has emerged as a major player in the global supply chain for synthetic drugs.


While China says it has made thousands of arrests and “joined hands” with foreign law enforcement agencies, officials from several countries say Chinese authorities have shown little interest in seriously combating what they see as the drug problems of other countries.

“They just didn’t see what was in it for them to look into their own industries exporting these chemicals,” former Mexican ambassador to China Jorge Guajardo said.

China’s chemical factories and drug traffickers have exploited this opportunity, turning the nation into a leading producer and exporter of synthetic drugs, including methamphetamine, as well as the compounds used to manufacture them, according to seizure and trafficking route data compiled by US and global law enforcement agencies.

China is now the source of a majority of the ingredients needed to manufacture methamphetamine by Mexican drug traffickers, who produce 90 percent of the methamphetamine consumed in the US, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

As governments around the world have stepped up regulation of these so-called precursor chemicals, the Mexican cartels have increasingly turned to Chinese chemical factories.

Guajardo, who served as ambassador in Beijing from 2007 to 2013, said his efforts to persuade Chinese authorities to restrict the export of these chemicals, which are banned in Mexico, came to naught.

“In all my time there, the Chinese never showed any willingness to cooperate on stemming the flow of precursors into Mexico,” he said in a telephone interview.

At the same time, clandestine Chinese labs manufacture and export their own methamphetamine and other synthetic drugs around the world. In 2013, the police dismantled nearly 390 methamphetamine labs in China, according to a UN report released last month.

These manufacturers have flourished in part because the country’s huge chemical industry is weakly regulated and poorly monitored, officials say, making it easy for criminals to divert chemicals with legitimate uses in making medicine, fertilizer and pesticides into the production of new and dangerous drugs.


The labs have also figured out how to stay one step ahead of laws banning illicit synthetic drugs simply by tweaking a few molecules, creating new and not-yet-illegal drugs.

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