United Nations Body Aims To Rein In Fentanyl Overdoses

The drug has been largely responsible for the uptick in overdose deaths in the United States and elsewhere

Seized counterfeit hydrocodone tablets are shown in this DEA photo. — REUTERS
Mar 17, 2017 at 5:05 PM ET

The United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs on Thursday took steps to control the production, sale and export of the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl, a drug that has been largely responsible for the uptick in overdose deaths in the United States and elsewhere.

The decision to schedule two precursors and one analogue of the potentially deadly drug was made during the CND’s 60th session and was aimed at addressing a rash of global overdoses. According to research conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, fentanyl and its analogues have caused more than 5,000 overdose deaths since 2013, and other fatalities have been reported in countries such as Germany, Greece, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Morocco. Additionally, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 33,000 people in the U.S. alone died from overdoses due to prescription or illicit opioids in 2015.

Fentanyl is 100 times more powerful than morphine. Justice Tettey, the chief of the laboratory and scientific section at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, said that while fentanyl has “excellent pain relieving properties,” it is “a bad drug.”

Scheduling these chemicals and analogues ensures that the international community can effectively monitor them, and “unifies action and replaces the patchwork of different local approaches to the problem,” according to a press release.

“This was a crucial decision by the Commission, and it is proof that the CND can respond quickly when a crisis involving people’s lives has to be addressed,” Ambassador Bente Angell-Hansen, chair of the CND session, said in a statement issued Thursday. “The primary goal of the international drug conventions is to protect the health and welfare of humankind. This is why it was so important to get those precursors and the analogue under international control.”

But others doubt the effectiveness of tackling the supply specific analogues, deeming it a futile effort.

The challenge with synthetic drugs is that it is very easy to rearrange their chemical make-up and stay one step ahead of law enforcement,” Michael Collins, the Drug Policy Alliance’s deputy of national affairs, told Vocativ on Friday. “It would be a better use of resources to focus on reducing demand by funding more treatment, education, and innovative approaches like supervised injection facilities.”