Americans spent nearly $800M in 2 years on illegal fentanyl from China: 5 things to know

United States residents purchased nearly $800 million worth of fentanyl pills from China over the internet in two years, according to a Senate investigations report released Wednesday.

The 104-page bipartisan report produced by the Senate Homeland Security Committee is the result of a yearlong Senate investigation. American officials have long identified China as the primary source of illicitly obtained fentanyl being disseminated throughout the U.S., according to a report from The New York Times.

Here are five things to know.

1. China is home to thousands of illegal pharmaceutical labs that produce synthetic drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil, a fentanyl derivative 10,000 times more potent than morphine. Online sellers exploit loopholes in the international mailing system, such as shipping the packages to foreign nations prior to shipping them to the U.S., to get the drugs in the country. The result is thousands of pounds of opioids entering the U.S. via the mail every year.

2. Commercial shippers like UPS and FedEx are required to provide U.S. Customs and Border Protection with information about the origin and contents of the packages prior to their arrival. However, customs officials do not receive information on all packages shipped through the United States Postal Service. The volume of shipments and the limited information made available from certain foreign postal services make identifying packages containing illicit drugs difficult.

3. While commercial sellers are required to provide data to customs, drug traffickers still leverage these services to ship drugs into the U.S., according to the Times.

4. Senate investigators identified hundreds of websites openly advertising the sale of illegal drugs, according to testimony given Thursday by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Senate Homeland Security Committee chairman. The investigators focused on six websites to better understand the process of purchasing fentanyl online.

"These online sellers were quick to respond, unafraid of getting caught, and ready to make a deal," Mr. Portman said. "They offered discounts for bulk purchases and even tried to up-sell us to carfentanil. … Just from these six websites, we identified more than 500 payments to online sellers by more than 300 Americans totaling $230,000, most of which occurred over the last two years."

5. The sellers primarily relied on Bitcoin for these transactions. While the 300 American buyers came from 43 different states, they mostly resided in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida.

To read the Senate's full report, click here

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