With an opioid summit hosted by the Food and Drug Administration just two days away, China's National Narcotic's Commission said June 25 that the United States needs to deal more effectively with demand for opioids.
The statement, made by Liu Yuejin, deputy head of the agency at a press conference, was an indirect swipe at U.S. officials who have pointed at China's responsibility to cut off the flow of the synthetic drug fentanyl, an opioid that is far more powerful than standard opioid pain meds. It has become a more popular and deadly drug on the streets of the U.S. While fentanyl is manufactured and prescribed in the United States, what has medical and law enforcement officials as well politicians upset is the availability of illegally mailed fentanyl coming out of China and reaching the U.S.
A congressional investigation over the last year showed that the drug was being manufactured in China and mailed to the U.S., and the Post Office was failing to intercept the illicit shipments.
The drug, which is 100 times more potent than morphine, has become increasingly popular for illicit use. Overdose deaths are up 540% over the last three years according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2016, 64,000 people died in the United States due to opioid overdoses, with 20,000 of those traced to fentanyl. The drug has become higher profile with the accidental overdoses of rock musicians Prince and Tom Petty.
While Yuejin pledged to cooperate with U.S. officials to keep fentanyl from leaving China, he also made it clear that the U.S. had issues beyond the drug being imported. "I believe that to resolve this the more important issue is for the United States to strive to reduce and compress the great demand and drug consumption markets of opioids," he said.
Yuejin did say that China would work with the U.S. on the fentanyl issue, regardless of trade relations between the two countries. President Trump has imposed tariffs on billions of dollars in Chinese goods and threatened even more. China has retaliated in kind.
China has placed the drug on a list of 23 controlled substances, but fentanyl abuse in China is not a problem.
Fentanyl in various forms is produced for the United States prescription market by Insys Therapeutics (INSY - Get Report) , Mylan (MYL - Get Report) , Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. (TEVA - Get Report) and Janssen Pharmaceutica NV.
Insys is involved in a legal action with the Department of Justice springing from a campaign by former CEO John Kapoor and other company officials and employees to use bribes and kickbacks to persuade doctors to prescribe the company's fentanyl drug Subsys, unnecessarily to boost sales. Kapoor, a billionaire, pled not guilty. The scandal resulted in 15 former Insys employees being arrested as well as a number of physicians according to securities filings.
In addition to the DOJ probe, the SEC is investigating the company for possible securities violations tied to the Subsys campaign and at least 15 states have served the company requests for information or subpoenas related to Subsys.
In SEC filings, Insys has said it anticipates a liability exposure of $150 million in defending the company over the next five years. It also maintains that the company has undergone major changes in management, strategy and direction as a result of the scandal.