Even as President Biden pressed Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Wednesday to crack down on the Chinese firms that are helping to produce fentanyl, clinicians who see people addicted to drugs believe that the nation’s drug policies are not evolving to address the wide range of substances seen on the streets, as The New York Times addiction reporter Jan Hoffman reported from camps and clinics in Michigan.
“The United States is in a new and perilous period in its battle against illicit drugs,” Hoffman writes. “The scourge is not only opioids, such as fentanyl, but a rapidly growing practice that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention labels ‘polysubstance use.’”
The piece describes a health crisis that is much broader than federal efforts that focus on fentanyl and opioids. Even studies of the millions of people addicted to opioids “have consistently shown that between 70 and 80 percent also take other illicit substances, a shift that is stymieing treatment efforts and confounding state, local and federal policies.”
“It’s no longer an opioid epidemic,” said Dr. Cara Poland, an associate professor at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. “This is an addiction crisis.”
Hoffman’s piece notes that meth is “particularly problematic” because there is no approved medical treatment for meth addiction and because meth can undercut the effectiveness of opioid addiction therapies. Other non-opioid drugs include the animal tranquilizer xylazine, which can char human flesh, anti-anxiety medications like Valium and Klonopin and older recreational stimulants like cocaine and meth.
Certainly, fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are serious. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they may have resulted in more than 77,000 overdose deaths in the United States between May 2022 and April 2023.
U.S. officials argue that China's vast chemical industry is playing a key role in the American fentanyl crisis by supplying the bulk of materials used in illegal drug labs, including in Mexico, which is now the largest exporter of fentanyl to the United States. The Chinese government denies that its country plays such a pivotal role and instead blames the United States for harboring a culture of drug use.
A plan to curb China’s illicit exports of fentanyl and particularly, the chemicals that can be combined to make the drug was hoped to be one of the more significant achievements for the United States out of Biden’s meeting with Xi, The New York Times wrote about the meeting, which took at an international conference in San Francisco. After Wednesday’s meeting, Biden outlined an agreement to work with China on the matter.