Biden says China is starting to follow through on fentanyl pledge, though ‘we’re going to verify’

President Biden said he is already seeing signs that Beijing is following through on a deal reached last week aimed at stopping Chinese shipments to Mexico of ingredients for the production and spread of the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl.

Mr. Biden, convening a meeting on the fentanyl crisis at the White House, said Beijing managed to stop direct shipments of fentanyl in 2019 but the problem evolved to Chinese-made “precursor” chemicals and pill presses “that are shipped with few controls from China to the Western Hemisphere.”

“The U.S. is going to seek to work together with China to target the fentanyl components,” Mr. Biden said. “As a result of our recent diplomacy, China is already taking steps to shut down companies dealing in illicit trade of precursor chemicals.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping, meeting with Mr. Biden at a summit of Pacific Rim nations in San Francisco last week, pledged to send a notice to Chinese companies that illicit shipments of fentanyl ingredients will not be tolerated. The U.S. and China also agreed to set up a working group to crack down on the illegal trafficking of the chemicals.

“We’re not just going to trust this is happening,” Mr. Biden said. “We’re going to verify, and that’s going to save lives, I believe.”

Fentanyl started to flood the heroin supply in the middle of the last decade, resulting in an uptick in overdose deaths. The highly potent synthetic opioid has shown up in a variety of drugs and counterfeit pills since then, killing Americans of all ages and backgrounds and bedeviling the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations.

The drug still causes tens of thousands of American deaths per year, placing pressure on Mr. Biden to tackle the problem as he runs for reelection.

“Fentanyl is likely the No. 1 — the No. 1  — killer of Americans aged 18 to 45, and it’s an issue that’s hurting families in every state across the nation,” Mr. Biden said. “Curbing this crisis is something every American can get behind, Democrat and Republican.”

Mr. Biden said he’s expanded drug abuse treatment and overdose-reversing drugs while using harm-reduction techniques to minimize deaths among users.

“This challenge also has roots outside our borders,” Mr. Biden said. “It’s a global challenge that demands global action.”

Mr. Biden said Mr. Xi committed to cracking down on Chinese-made pill presses that are used to insert deadly fentanyl into pills that look like Adderall and other drugs.

“It’s one of the important things we agreed upon,” Mr. Biden said.

Congress is debating ways to stop the flow of deadly drugs, with Democrats calling for better screening at ports of entry while Republicans point to lax security at the U.S.-Mexico as the central problem. Some lawmakers want to see stiffer criminal penalties for traffickers of fentanyl and its chemical analogs.

Mr. Biden urged Congress to place fentanyl and its analogs on the most stringently controlled list of drugs — Schedule I — on a permanent basis, though lawmakers haven’t been able to reach a deal because of differences over mandatory minimum criminal penalties.

On the campaign trail, former President Donald Trump says fentanyl dealers should face the death penalty. His GOP rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, says his administration would shoot fentanyl traffickers who try to cross into the U.S.

Leading Democrats have praised Mr. Biden’s diplomatic approach, saying it is a good deal for all nations.

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