Miami-Dade County

China bans sale of flakka, other synthetic drugs

Confronted with bad publicity and intense pressure from abroad, China has banned the sale of more than 100 synthetic drugs — including alpha-PVP, better known as flakka, a disorienting stimulant that has set off alarms in South Florida and generated national headlines.

The Chinese government imposed the new controls last month, making it illegal to distribute flakka, variations of synthetic heroin known generally as fentanyl, and other chemicals at home and overseas, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

In the past, authorities in China would declare certain drugs illegal if there was a domestic addiction problem. But in this unprecedented policy change, the Ministry of Public Security recognized the addictive and deadly nature of 116 China-produced drugs being consumed in foreign countries, including the United States. The change took effect Oct. 1. Previously, the ministry had banned popular club drugs such as ecstasy, methylone and GHB.

Chinese labs that used to promote sales of flakka and other synthetic drugs — which they would molecularly tweak to circumvent narcotics laws in the United States — are now saying on websites that they are temporarily out of certain products as a result of the government’s new controls.

“They seem to be wanting to make an effort to crack down on the exportation of these illegal synthetic drugs that have caused such serious problems in our country,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Tony Gonzalez said on Wednesday.

During the first week of November, Gonzalez joined a South Florida delegation of law enforcement officials from the DEA, Broward Sheriff’s office, Fort Lauderdale Police and Coral Springs Police to visit with their counterparts in China to discuss the new policy and criminal investigations. They also visited with the U.S. ambassador to China.

Both the delegation’s trip and China’s new ban followed in-depth reports in the Miami Herald and other media outlets on the spread of flakka, Molly-type club drugs such as ethylone and synthetic heroin.

In September, the Herald spotlighted scores of South Florida overdoses, suicides, accidents and even murder victims with synthetic drugs in their systems. The synthetic substances medical examiners found in their bodies most likely arrived though the China Pipeline, which has delivered illegal drugs, sold as bulk research chemicals on the Internet, to stateside dealers through the mail.

Authorities have scrambled to shut down the pipeline but acknowledge that it remains the primary source of an array of dangerous so-called designer drugs flowing into South Florida. The grim result: a rising number of addicts, emergency room visits and deaths, particularly related to newer, more potent synthetics like the infamous flakka and the less known — but even more lethal— fentanyl.

The director of toxicology at the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s Office applauded China’s new policy controlling scores of synthetic drugs.

“The ban of the sale of the listed synthetic drugs will hopefully have a positive impact with regard to reducing the designer drug threat in the United States,” Diane Boland, the director, said on Friday. “Only time will tell.”

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