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24 July
Comments Off on Chinese trade of deadly opioid carfentanil thrives at the cost of North American lives

Chinese trade of deadly opioid carfentanil thrives at the cost of North American lives

SHANGHAI – Seizures of the deadly chemical carfentanil have exploded across the United States, with more than 400 cases documented in eight states since July alone, The Associated Press has found.

This fall, the drug also began to appear in Canada. It’s been seized in several provinces and last month health officials said the illicit opioid was linked to two deaths in Alberta.

What is carfentanil and why is it easy to obtain?

Fuelled by a thriving trade out of China, the weapons-grade chemical is suspected in hundreds of drug overdoses in the U.S. and Canada. An AP investigation last month showed how easily carfentanil can be purchased online from China.

READ MORE: What is carfentanil? Deadly street drug is causing mass overdoses in the US

Of the 12 companies that initially offered to export carfentanil around the world, just three have stopped since the report was released. Nine continue to offer carfentanil for sale, no questions asked, and the AP identified four additional companies willing to sell the drug, some of which claimed to have U.S. addresses.

Asked for comment, most denied they’d ever made the offers.

Jilin Tely Import and Export Co. initially boasted in an email that carfentanil was one of its “hot sales product.” After being named in AP’s story, the company’s website vanished and it denied ever producing carfentanil.

All these vendors profit from a loophole in the global regulation of a substance whose toxicity has been compared with that of a nerve agent. Carfentanil is a controlled substance in the U.S., where it can be used legally to immobilize large animals like elephants. But it is not controlled in China, the top source of fentanyl-related compounds that end up in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

READ MORE: Chinese companies willing to export deadly opioid carfentanil to Canada and U.S.

“It’s a loophole that needs to be closed because even small quantities can have a terrible lethal effect,” said Andrew Weber, who served as U.S. assistant secretary of defence for nuclear, chemical and biological defence programs from 2009 to 2014.

“Terrorists could acquire it commercially as we have seen drug dealers doing.”

Some 5,000 times stronger than heroin — and 100 times stronger than fentanyl itself — carfentanil is so toxic that an amount smaller than a poppy seed can kill a person.

It was researched for years as a chemical weapon and used by Russian forces to incapacitate Chechen separatists in 2002. That move killed 120 hostages.

FILE – In this early Saturday, Oct. 26, 2002 file photo, unconscious liberated hostages are taken away in a bus from the scene near the Dubrovka Theater in Moscow. Russian special forces turned to carfentanil to end a standoff with Chechen separatists using an aerosol version of the opioid, along with the less potent remifentanil, sending it through air vents, according to a paper by British scientists who tested clothing and urine samples from three survivors. The strategy worked, but more than 120 hostages died from the effects of the chemicals.

AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky, File

“Carfentanil is an analogue of fentanyl with an analgesic potency 10,000 times that of morphine and is used in veterinary practice to immobilize certain large animals,” the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says on its website.

The AP did not buy carfentanil from the vendors and did not test whether the products on offer were genuine.

China refuses to take action

READ MORE: Carfentanil, a drug 100X more powerful than fentanyl, confirmed in deaths of 2 Albertans

DEA and State Department officials have discussed carfentanil’s dangers with Chinese authorities, who have already controlled 19 fentanyl-related compounds, and urged them to blacklist it. But China has yet to act.

The DEA says the carfentanil spreading through illicit drug markets in the U.S. is not being diverted from legal domestic supplies. “The carfentanil that has been seized in multiple U.S. states is believed to be arriving from foreign sources via illicit networks,” Russell Baer, a DEA special agent in Washington, said by email.

China’s Ministry of Public Security did not respond to requests for comment.

Since July, when carfentanil was first identified in the U.S. drug supply, the DEA has confirmed at least 407 carfentanil seizures in eight states, according to data obtained by the AP that did not include details on quantities seized.

READ MORE: Fentanyl laced cocaine confirmed in Ottawa, amid growing ‘crisis’ in Ontario

Huge spike in overdoses and deaths

Dealers cut carfentanil and other synthetic opioids into illicit drugs like heroin, cocaine and fake prescription pills to boost profit margins.

The main geographic cluster centres on Ohio, which has been hardest hit, with 343 confirmed carfentanil seizures. The drug has also spread through the surrounding states of Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan and Illinois. Carfentanil has been seized at least 34 times in Florida, the second-hardest hit state, and has been identified in Georgia and Rhode Island. DEA is waiting on confirmation from cases in West Virginia, New York and Pennsylvania.

The resulting wave of human misery has been overwhelming.

In just 21 days in July, paramedics in Akron, Ohio, logged 236 overdoses, including 14 fatalities, with suspected links to carfentanil, according to the DEA. In the first six months of this year, in contrast, they dealt with a total of 320 overdoses of all kinds. In September, the Ohio coroner’s office confirmed eight carfentanil overdose deaths in Cincinnati, the DEA said.

READ MORE: Cincinnati sees nearly 80 heroin overdoses in 48 hours

The true scope of the problem is likely bigger. The seizure data from the DEA only reflects samples confirmed as carfentanil by federal, state and local forensic laboratories. Some local authorities may not have tested specifically for the drug — not all labs even have the capacity to do so — and toxicology tests can lag for months as coroners struggle with a backlog of autopsies, according to the DEA.

In this June 27, 2016 photo provided by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, members of the RCMP go through a decontamination procedure in Vancouver after intercepting a package containing approximately 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of the powerful opioid carfentanil imported from China. (Royal Canadian Mounted Police via AP)

Royal Canadian Mounted Police via AP

Health Canada reaction + difficulty in detecting the drug

Health Canada, for its part, is ramping up efforts to tame the “crisis” it’s seeing within our borders.

“Health Canada is deeply concerned about the growing number of opioid-related overdoses and deaths associated with street drugs, such as illicitly produced fentanyl, as well as pharmaceutical opioids, in British Columbia, as well in other parts of Canada,” the department said in a statement to Global News back in September.

Since such a small amount of the drug can be deadly, it can be difficult for toxicology tests to confirming its existence in human blood.

“To my knowledge, there are very few laboratories in North America that are able to measure carfentanil in human blood,” Alberta Acting Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Elizabeth Brooks-Lim said in October.

“Alberta’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is believed to be the first toxicology laboratory in Canada to positively identify carfentanil in human blood.”

Watch Below: A drug even more deadly than fentanyl is now being sold to unsuspecting victims in our province. As Tom Vernon reports, it’s raising the stakes in the fight against opioid drugs.

With the click of a button: how carfentanil gets to North America

Direct exports of fentanyl-related chemicals from China arrive in the United States as air cargo or postal shipments, but are difficult to identify, according to congressional testimony obtained by the AP.

“Standard field kits do not accurately detect fentanyl,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske said in answers to committee questions. He added that information from Chinese authorities on shipments destined for the U.S. could help customs more effectively intercept illicit packages.

For now, vendors appear brazenly confident about their ability to evade customs. Some even guaranteed delivery.

Shanxi Jinwei Technology Co. offered carfentanil and other drugs for export to the U.S. and Europe. “Please don’t worry,” the company said in an email. They added that they’d hide everything in aluminum bags and reship packages that failed to arrive. The company didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Carfentanil vendors also take advantage of loose oversight on major trading platforms like South Korea’s EC21长沙桑拿 and China’s LookChem长沙桑拿 marketplaces.

EC21 claims to host 3 million products. Among them are carfentanil, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and ketamine, the AP found. A spokesperson for EC21 who refused to give a name said the site screened more than 700 keywords. “Every day we spend lots of time and effort to block” illegal products, EC21 said by Skype chat.

READ MORE: Fentanyl in Canada will get worse before it gets better: RCMP report 

But companies evade those keyword controls with the lightest touch of subterfuge. Like misspelling.

A search for “fentanyl” yielded zero results. But “fentanyll” yielded 806 products from 422 suppliers on EC21. A search for “cocainee” tapped 35 suppliers and “heroinn” produced 21 suppliers.

In this Oct. 26, 2016, photo, a man drinks tea near a computer screen displaying websites of companies selling carfentanil online on a train leaving Beijing on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. Use of the deadly chemical carfentanil by drug dealers has exploded across the U.S., with more than 400 seizures in eight states since July, fueled by a thriving trade from China, the AP has found.

AP Photo/Ng Han Guan

One company, Apex Special Chemical Medicine Trade Co., whose listed address was in Guangzhou, China, pulled its listings for carfentanil and other products from EC21 after being contacted by the AP. But at least six companies linked by email address or phone number to Apex appeared on the site this year, most of them in October. These new companies posted U.S. addresses — except one — and offered a cornucopia of illicit drugs. Emails requesting comment received no reply. Listed phone numbers did not work.

LookChem, a chemicals trading platform headquartered in Hangzhou, China, screens its product listings once or twice a year, based on Chinese regulations, according to company spokesman James Li. “We audit every product from vendors, a human audit,” he said. “It is not like people can sell anything they want.”

Yet the AP found four audit-approved vendors offering illicit sales of substances on LookChem. One is Shiyan Furuiyang Biological Technology Co., which offered by email to export carfentanil and fentanyl to the U.S. Fentanyl is a controlled substance in China. Search for it on LookChem’s site and nothing comes up, but Shiyan Furuiyang simply printed “fentanyl” in red letters across multiple photographs of baggies plump with crystalline powder.

READ MORE: Deadly drug fentanyl has been tested as chemical weapon by military for decades

“Fentanyl has a big market in USA,” a Shiyan Furuiyang sales manager who called herself Susie said in a Skype chat. “We sent there before.” Contacted later on Skype, another saleswoman, who advertised fentanyl on her profile, told the AP, “No comment, no explanation.”

All this just describes sales on the open internet. The darknet, a collection of shadowy websites invisible to most internet users, is also a vibrant marketplace for drugs. One darknet search engine yielded 118 listings of carfentanil for sale.

Chinese government could make a difference if it cracked down

China’s actions can have a profound impact on global narcotics markets. After Beijing controlled 116 new synthetic drugs last October, U.S. seizures of key narcotics plunged, DEA data show.

The reverberations of that law can still be felt. A sales manager named Eric from Shanghai Golden Time Biological Technology Co. refused to produce fentanyl and acetylfentanyl, both of which are controlled substances in China. “I can’t make it,” he said.

But he was happy to export the far more potent, unregulated carfentanil for $8,000 a kilogram.

___

Satter reported from Paris. Associated Press reporter Desmond Butler contributed from Washington and researcher Fu Ting contributed from Shanghai.

— With files from Carmen Chai and Emily Mertz, Global News

Related

  • Police intercept deadly opioid carfentanil: ‘50M doses could’ve hit our streets’

    ChangSha Night Net

24 July
Comments Off on School bus strike averted in GTA after company, union reach tentative deal

School bus strike averted in GTA after company, union reach tentative deal

A tentative agreement was reached between the union representing Greater Toronto Area school bus drivers and the bus operator Thursday morning following negotiations which stretched past the midnight strike deadline.

The deal, a first for drivers from First Student Markham, is now slated for ratification.

ChangSha Night Net

“We have a three-year agreement and I think our members will be pleased,” Debbie Montgomery, president of Unifor Local 4268, told reporters on Thursday. “This would be the drivers first collective agreement with Unifor. So we were pretty much starting from scratch. So that’s a lot of work.”

Both the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) and the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) said buses will operate as normal until the labour deal is ratified.

“First Student is happy that we were able to reach an agreement, and the community will have continuous school bus transportation. We look forward to the results of the ratification,” First Student spokesperson Jay Brock said in a statement.

School officials were advised the union only needed to give 72 hours notice before beginning any job action, but gave 10 days instead.

A possible strike could have affected nearly 2,500 TDSB and 6,000 TCDSB students. A York Catholic District School Board (YCDSB) spokeswoman said around 3,500 YCDSB students and 6,500 York Region District School Board (YRDSB) students would be affected.

The union said that although a tentative deal has been reached, there are still some outstanding issues which the provincial government should now take notice.

“We’ve asked for a standard minimum wage to be applied to this industry and recognition of this job and the responsibility and that’s pretty important to us,” Montgomery said.

“We’ve asked for even more inspections. We’re concerned about the safety of the vehicles, the age of the vehicles being allowed on the roads.”

The union is also calling on the province to amend the Request For Proposals (RFP) process for handing out school bus contracts, which it maintains has directly led to many of the systemic problems in the industry.

-Cindy Pom contributed to this report

24 July
Comments Off on Tentative agreement reached between GTA school bus company, union

Tentative agreement reached between GTA school bus company, union

A tentative agreement was reached between the union representing Greater Toronto Area school bus drivers and the bus operator Thursday morning following negotiations which stretched past the midnight strike deadline.

The deal, a first for drivers from First Student Markham, is now slated for ratification.

“We have a three-year agreement and I think our members will be pleased,” Debbie Montgomery, president of Unifor Local 4268, told reporters on Thursday. “This would be the drivers first collective agreement with Unifor. So we were pretty much starting from scratch. So that’s a lot of work.”

Both the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) and the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) said buses will operate as normal until the labour deal is ratified.

ChangSha Night Net

School officials were advised the union only needed to give 72 hours notice before beginning any job action, but gave 10 days instead.

A possible strike could have affected nearly 2,500 TDSB and 6,000 TCDSB students. A York Catholic District School Board (YCDSB) spokeswoman said around 3,500 YCDSB students and 6,500 York Region District School Board (YRDSB) students would be affected.

The union said that although a tentative deal has been reached, there are still some outstanding issues which the provincial government should now take notice.

“We’ve asked for a standard minimum wage to be applied to this industry and recognition of this job and the responsibility and that’s pretty important to us,” Montgomery said.

“We’ve asked for even more inspections. We’re concerned about the safety of the vehicles, the age of the vehicles being allowed on the roads.”

The union is also calling on the province to amend the Request For Proposals (RFP) process for handing out school bus contracts, which it maintains has directly led to many of the systemic problems in the industry.

24 July
Comments Off on Conservative motion aims to force Liberal hand on policing ethics

Conservative motion aims to force Liberal hand on policing ethics

OTTAWA – The Conservatives are hoping to hoist Justin Trudeau on his own ethical petard.

The Liberals defeated the Tories in last year’s federal election thanks in part to the prime minister’s promise to run a more ethical government.

But now he’s being accused of breaking his own directive that cabinet ministers must avoid even the appearance of giving preferential access to individuals who donate to the Liberal cause.

ChangSha Night Net

The Conservatives intend to use an opposition day Thursday to debate a motion calling on the House of Commons to give the ethics commissioner power to enforce the prime minister’s directive.

The motion, which will be put to a vote later this month, is clearly aimed at putting Trudeau on the spot: either vote against his own ethics directive or support the motion and risk having ethics commissioner Mary Dawson rule against the practice of allowing cabinet ministers to be the feature attraction at fundraisers.

READ MORE: Liberal fundraisers being investigated by lobbying watchdog

Dawson has called these so-called “cash-for-access” fundraisers “not very savoury” but says she has no legal authority to enforce Trudeau’s directive on avoiding the perception of preferential access.

In a preview of the debate on the motion, interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose called Wednesday on Trudeau to follow his own ethics rules.

“He came into office saying that he was going to raise the ethical standard,” Ambrose told the Commons.

“He brought in his own ethical guidelines for himself and for his ministers and they’re all violating them. So the question again is, will he follow his own rules?”

Trudeau insisted that he and his ministers “are absolutely following our own rules, we’re following all the rules in place.”

READ MORE: Tories push for justice minister to return money from fundraiser with lawyers

That argument could make it harder for Liberals to vote against the Conservative motion: If they feel they are following Trudeau’s directive, they have no reason to fear letting Dawson enforce it.

As he’s done repeatedly over the past couple of weeks, Trudeau maintained that the law governing donations to federal political parties is “stringent,” capping individual contributions at $1,500 and outlawing corporate and union donations altogether. In effect, he’s contending that the limits on donations are too strict to enable anyone to buy preferential access.

24 July
Comments Off on SickKids hospital dials up emotions in new video for fundraising campaign

SickKids hospital dials up emotions in new video for fundraising campaign

TORONTO – Grace Bowen was diagnosed with osteosarcoma a few days shy of her ninth birthday. After going through major surgery and aggressive chemotherapy, she died just 11 months later.

Her story is told in the latest chapter of the SickKids Foundation’s contentious fundraising campaign titled VS. A new video released on Thursday features emotional music and candid shots of Grace and her family during her treatment at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children.

ChangSha Night Net

The first video ad in the hospital’s campaign, which portrayed children donning warpaint in a rousing call to battle, made headlines across the country – and outside Canada – and sparked a debate about the use of military metaphors in treating disease.

University of Ottawa Prof. Michael Orsini was among the critics who spoke out against the campaign that depicted patients and former patients literally fighting back – as soldiers, wrestlers and superheroes – against illnesses.

READ MORE: 12-year-old gives back to SickKids, Angel Hair for Kids after near-fatal fall

“I think (the campaign) leaves out the folks who are so-called ‘brave soldiers’ who cannot win the war, win the fight. And that is really kind of unfortunate,” Orsini told the CBC last month.

But Andrea Bowen, Grace’s mother, says the public shouldn’t be so quick to judge the campaign.

“Grace did not lose her battle. I can’t stand those words. I hate the thought of people thinking that or saying those words,” says Bowen.

“But this is not the message I got from viewing the (first ad). I think Grace would have loved … the ‘feel’ of it.”

The SickKids Foundation consulted with more than 50 patients and families and 100 staff members while developing its campaign, including grieving families like the Bowens. The goal was to ensure the ads resonated even with those facing tragedy.

READ MORE: Petition launched to rename SickKids to something more positive

According to Bowen, the brainstorming process paid off.

“I don’t believe (this campaign) is just about kids fighting issues they are dealing with. It’s about SickKids being there fighting for these children and families, working together, doing their best to save and improve the lives of children.”

Jay Chaney, chief strategy officer for the ad agency behind the campaign, Cossette, says the project should not be judged solely on the first ad.

“The tone evolves. We’ve tapped into this real, emotional experience of the hospital … and speak to the range of experiences, breakthroughs and losses that happen everyday at SickKids.”

Chaney also says that the marketing campaign has received mostly positive response on social media, a rare occurrence in the age of Internet trolls and skeptics.

The hospital foundation actually expected more criticism, says Lori Davison, SickKids vice president of brand strategy and communications.

READ MORE: SickKids hospital using new tool to reduce medical errors

“I actually thought it would be a lot more polarizing. That’s part of the power of it. People react and it makes them feel something. But I was surprised how overwhelmingly positive the response has been,” says Davison.

“We wanted to stretch people’s emotions. We wanted to be the most different with the first ad, but people will see us dialling up different emotions as we tell different stories.”

The foundation is hoping the campaign, which has another two ads to be released, will help in a larger effort to raise $1.3 billion for research and hospital infrastructure.

The first ad was part of a concerted effort to expand the foundation’s donor base to include both younger and male donors. And to date, it’s working. Preliminary campaign data shows an eight per cent increase in male donors and a seven per cent increase in donations from those aged 22 to 44.

For Bowen, the SickKids VS campaign is not about winners and losers. It’s about bravery, courage and helping others.

“We fight every day to continue Grace’s legacy and tell her story. We fight to help other children by raising much needed childhood cancer research funds. We continue to fight everyday to take another step without Grace. And we will continue the fight with SickKids who did all they could with amazing teams of doctors, surgeons, nurses and the people behind the scenes supporting children and families like us.”