President Biden on Wednesday released a statement mourning the more than 100,000 Americans who died last year from drug overdoses — without mentioning China’s leading role exporting fentanyl, which drove the 29 percent annual increase in deaths.
Nearly two-thirds of deaths were caused by fentanyl and related synthetic opioids that can kill a person at extremely low doses. Fentanyl is increasingly added to non-opioid drugs such as cocaine and counterfeit prescriptions.
In some areas of New York City, including the Bronx and the North Shore of Staten Island, more than 75 percent of overdose deaths involved fentanyl.
“Today, new data reveal that our nation has reached a tragic milestone: more than 100,000 lives were lost to the overdose epidemic from April of last year to April of this year,” Biden said. “As we continue to make strides to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot overlook this epidemic of loss, which has touched families and communities across the country”
Biden, who held a virtual summit Monday with Chinese President Xi Jinping, said “my Administration is committed to doing everything in our power to address addiction and end the overdose epidemic,” noting budget requests for addiction treatment, prevention and harm-reduction programs.
“To all those families who have mourned a loved one and to all those people who are facing addiction or are in recovery: you are in our hearts, and you are not alone. Together, we will turn the tide on this epidemic,” Biden said.
But the statement didn’t mention China — in a notable break from former President Donald Trump, who frequently denounced Chinese exports of fentanyl, which is smuggled into the US through Mexico and international postal services. Trump boasted that Xi agreed to impose the death penalty on traffickers.
Fentanyl wasn’t among the more than dozen topics listed by the White House as matters discussed by Biden and Xi this week. The readouts also didn’t mention whether Biden addressed China’s refusal to cooperate with an independent investigation of the origins of COVID-19.
By contrast, Trump said in 2019, “I said to President Xi that we cannot let fentanyl into our country. Almost 100 percent comes from China. It’s devastating. As you know, better than I do, it’s devastating. And he has promised to… make it a criminal act at the highest level, which in China means the death penalty.”
Trump proceeded to routinely blast Xi for not following through on that pledge.
“He said he was going to stop fentanyl from coming into our country — it’s all coming out of China; he didn’t do that,” Trump said later.
The illegal trade became a key sticking point in US-China talks ahead of the Phase One trade agreement in January 2020. Although not addressed directly in the deal, Trump argued, “it’s not part of the trade agreement, but it is part of the trade agreement” because of verbal assurances from Xi.
Washington Examiner reporter Christian Datoc asked about China’s role during a Wednesday gaggle on Air Force One with White House spokesman Chirs Meagher.
Datoc asked Meagher to address China “exporting fentanyl to the United States and the efforts of the Chinese government to tamp down on that.”
Meagher didn’t mention China in his reply and instead focused on domestic budget requests to address treatment and prevention efforts.
According to a 2020 Drug Enforcement Administration report, China remains one of the top suppliers of fentanyl brought illegally into the US, though Xi’s reforms appear to have reduced China’s dominance of that market.
“While Mexico and China are the primary source countries for fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances trafficked directly into the United States, India is emerging as a source for finished fentanyl powder and fentanyl precursor chemicals,” the DEA report said.
DEA administrator Anne Milgram said Wednesday that “this year alone, DEA has seen enough fentanyl to provide every member of the United States population with a lethal dose and we are still seizing more fentanyl each and every day.”
— Additional reporting by Nolan Hicks