In China, Illegal Drugs Are Sold Online in an Unbridled Market (Published 2015) (2023)

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By Dan Levin

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SHANGHAI — Ordering illegal drugs from China is as easy as typing on a keyboard.

On guidechem.com, more than 150 Chinese companies sell alpha-PVP, also known as flakka, a dangerous stimulant that is illegal in the United States but not in China, and was blamed for 18 recent deaths in one Florida county.

The e-commerce portal Qinjiayuan sells air-conditioners, trampolines and a banned hallucinogen known as spice, which set off a devastating spike in United States emergency room visits in April.

The stimulant mephedrone, sometimes sold as “bath salts,” is banned in China but readily for sale at the Nanjing Takanobu Chemical Company for about $1,400 a pound.

“I can handle this for you legally or illegally,” a company salesman said by phone when asked about shipping the product overseas from the company’s headquarters in coastal Jiangsu Province. “How much do you want?”

In a country that has perfected the art of Internet censorship, the open online drug market is just the most blatant example of what international law enforcement officials say is China’s reluctance to take action as it has emerged as a major player in the global supply chain for synthetic drugs.

While China says it has made thousands of arrests and “joined hands” with foreign law enforcement agencies, officials from several countries say Chinese authorities have shown little interest in seriously combating what they see as the drug problems of other countries.

“They just didn’t see what was in it for them to look into their own industries exporting these chemicals,” said Jorge Guajardo, the former Mexican ambassador to China.

China’s chemical factories and drug traffickers have exploited this opportunity, turning the nation into a leading producer and exporter of synthetic drugs, including methamphetamine, as well as the compounds used to manufacture them, according to seizure and trafficking route data compiled by American and international law enforcement agencies.

China is now the source of a majority of the ingredients needed to manufacture methamphetamine by Mexican drug traffickers, who produce 90 percent of the meth consumed in the United States, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

As governments around the world have stepped up regulation of these so-called precursor chemicals, the Mexican cartels have increasingly turned to Chinese chemical factories.

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Mr. Guajardo, Mexico’s ambassador from 2007 to 2013, said his efforts to persuade Chinese authorities to restrict the export of these chemicals, which are banned in Mexico, came to naught. Instead, he said, Chinese officials said the problem was best handled by Mexican customs agents or claimed that Mexico’s written requests for assistance had used the incorrect typeface or were improperly translated into Chinese.

“In all my time there, the Chinese never showed any willingness to cooperate on stemming the flow of precursors into Mexico,” he said in a telephone interview.

At the same time, clandestine Chinese labs manufacture and export their own meth and other synthetic drugs around the world. In 2013, the police dismantled nearly 390 meth labs in China, more than in any other country in the region, according to a United Nations report released in May.

These manufacturers have flourished in part because the country’s huge chemical industry is weakly regulated and poorly monitored, officials say, making it easy for criminal syndicates to divert chemicals with legitimate uses in making medicine, fertilizer and pesticides into the production of new and dangerous drugs.

The labs have also figured out how to stay one step ahead of laws banning illicit synthetic drugs simply by tweaking a few molecules, creating new and not-yet-illegal drugs.

Since 2008, the number of new psychoactive substances reported to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has soared more than eightfold to 541, far outpacing the 244 drugs controlled under global conventions. Often sold as “legal highs” and “research chemicals,” these drugs are designed specifically to exploit an outdated international legal framework.

Some countries, including the United States, have banned whole ranges of chemicals that mimic illegal drugs, but many nations do not. The European Union in particular, with its open borders and disparate drug laws, provides ample opportunity for smuggling contraband.

“Drug traffickers take advantage of this,” said Soren Pedersen, a spokesman for the European police agency Europol. “As soon as a substance becomes illegal in Germany, they can just divert it to Denmark, Sweden or Austria.”

Several American officials said China was the primary source for new synthetic drugs.

“Hands down China is No. 1,” said a federal law enforcement official, who was not authorized to speak publicly.

“I know prosecutors in Arizona, Virginia, Minnesota,” said Carla Freedman, an assistant district attorney in New York who in 2013 prosecuted a ring trafficking drugs from Shanghai. “We’re seeing cases nationwide and ground zero always seems to be China.”

ImageIn China, Illegal Drugs Are Sold Online in an Unbridled Market (Published 2015) (1)

According to the Australian Crime Commission’s latest Illicit Drugs Report, released last month, China was the primary source of illicit amphetamine-type drugs detected at the Australian border in 2013 to 2014.

In 2013, the Australian police made their largest methamphetamine seizure ever, 1,300 pounds discovered in a shipping container from China with a street value of $450 million. Since then, Australian authorities have found meth in Chinese shipments of garden hoses, handbags, lamps, aquarium pebbles, metal shafts, kayaks and 70 porcelain toilets.

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“We’ve seen it all,” said Detective Superintendent Scott Cook, who commands the Organized Crime Squad in the state of New South Wales, which includes Sydney. “There’s absolutely no limit in terms of how far they go to import drugs. They’re ingenious.”

Chinese officials say the government is committed to international cooperation against drug traffickers.

“We aim to help and support other countries in any way we can,” Liu Yuejin, the assistant minister of public security, has said publicly.

In response to faxed questions, the Chinese Foreign Ministry denied any problems in law enforcement cooperation with Mexico.

But Hao Wei, a member of the ministry’s Committee for Prevention of Synthetic Drug Abuse, said traffickers would always find loopholes.

“I really don’t think only governments should be blamed for this,” he said in a telephone interview. “Instead of pointing fingers at each other, we should confront the problem and deal with it in a comprehensive and balanced way.”

China has responded to mounting international pressure with several high-profile busts. In April, officials announced the arrest of more than 133,000 people and seizure of 43 tons of illegal narcotics during a five-month antidrug sweep that ended in March.

But experts say these actions have failed to significantly impede traffickers. “China likes everyone to think they’re in control of everything,” said a United Nations official, who asked not to be identified to avoid political repercussions. ”But at the end of the day they have an enormous chemical industry and the state doesn’t have the capacity to monitor and control it.”

The United States said in a report last year that China was taking steps to join global efforts against illegal drugs but added that those efforts are “hindered by cumbersome internal approval processes” that limit the ability of American investigators to work with their Chinese counterparts. In March, the Drug Enforcement Administration resorted to an elaborate ruse to lure one of the world’s top synthetic drug manufacturers, a Chinese citizen named Tian Haijun, to Los Angeles to arrest him.

Even when China does make an arrest, it may not accomplish much.

For more than a decade, Zhang Lei, a 39-year-old Shanghai chemist, also known as Eric Chang, manufactured thousands of pounds of synthetic drugs for buyers in 57 countries, earning about $30 million from shipments to the United States alone, American officials say. In Britain he was known for producing substances consumed by young ravers. The Australian police accused him of shipping ingredients for crystal meth to an artist in Melbourne.

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Though wanted by Interpol since 2011, Mr. Zhang made little effort to conceal his identity or the nature of his work. He handed out business cards with his real name, address and phone number. A photo of crystalline white powder adorns a Twitter page with his name that links to his company website. To stay ahead of local and international laws banning new synthetic drugs, his company, China Enriching Chemistry, constantly developed new chemical variations for export, American officials said.

The company’s website, for instance, advertises a substance called “Eric-2,” a substitute for mephedrone that costs $1,500 for 100 grams, or 3.5 ounces.

“It falls outside all illegal laws currently regarding research chemicals,” the website boasts in slightly flawed English.

The Chinese police knew about Mr. Zhang for years, and finally arrested him in 2013 on charges of producing ecstasy.

Last July, the United States Treasury Department sanctioned Mr. Zhang, his company and three associates under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, which froze their American assets.

Yet Mr. Zhang’s company is still thriving.

The company’s Shanghai headquarters remains open, and its English-language website, a veritable Amazon of synthetic highs, promises three-day international delivery and full refunds if customs officials seize any shipments.

The Ministry of Public Security did not respond to faxed questions about the status of Mr. Zhang’s case or the continued operation of his chemical business.

On a recent visit to the company’s headquarters in a drab office park here, Mr. Zhang’s mother, Wang Guoying, 65, whose assets in the United States have been frozen, sat at a large wooden desk. Photos of Mr. Zhang and his son were displayed on a nearby bookshelf next to glass beakers and bottles of champagne and Glenfiddich Scotch.

Although a product brochure in the office listed mephedrone, Ms. Wang denied that the company ever sold illegal drugs.

“What American buyers did with the chemicals they bought from my son can’t be blamed on him,” she said. “We’re a legitimate company. If we weren’t would we still be up and running?”

FAQs

What is the drug policy in China? ›

In China, drug use is an administrative and not criminal offense; however, individuals detained by public security authorities are subject to coercive or compulsory “treatment.” This approach has been subject to widespread condemnation, including repeated calls over the past decade by United Nations (UN) agencies, UN ...

What is the punishment for drugs in China? ›

In China, if you are caught with drugs, you could be forced to attend drug rehab in a facility run by the government. Execution is the penalty for some drug crimes.

Is China a drug free country? ›

Following a 1949 national anti-drug campaign, China became “a country free from drugs”[1,2]. However, China has been facing the recur- rence of pandemic drug abuse, especially heroin abuse, again since the late 1980s[3,4]. Drug trafficking and production have been increasing in China.

Does Alibaba sell drugs? ›

In response to the reports, Alibaba's Tmall said in a statement: “Merchants on our platform, including pharmacies, are prohibited from carrying out online sales of prescription drugs. We will take action against those who violate our product listing policy.”

How long does it take for a drug to be approved in China? ›

The 60 days of timeframe for CTA approval following the global regulations. Clear timelines for review and approval for different types of drug registration applications.

Is China a regulated market for pharma? ›

Like its U.S. and European counterparts, the Chinese pharma business is regulated by government agencies, and competition is fierce in the business.

What happens if you commit a crime in China? ›

In China, criminals will be punished. Penalties include five kinds of principal punishments and three kinds of supplementary punishments. Principal punishments include: (1) public surveillance; (2) criminal detention; (3) fixed-term imprisonment; (4) life imprisonment; and (5) the death penalty.

What is prohibited in China? ›

The following items are prohibited from entering China: arms, ammunition, and explosives of all kinds; counterfeit currencies and counterfeit negotiable securities; printed matter, magnetic media, films, or photographs that are deemed to be detrimental to the political, economic, cultural, and moral interests of China; ...

What is the penalty in China for stealing? ›

If someone steals in China, he/she may be sentenced to public surveillance as the least serious penalty or life imprisonment as the most serious penalty, depending on the seriousness of the crime he/she commits.

Does China have the death penalty for drugs? ›

Capital punishment in China is a legal penalty. It is commonly applied for murder and drug trafficking, although it is also a legal penalty for various other offenses. Executions are carried out by lethal injection or by shooting.

How do drugs affect the economy? ›

Economic Costs

This value includes: $120 billion in lost productivity, mainly due to labor participation costs, participation in drugabuse treatment, incarceration, and premature death; $11 billion in healthcare costs – for drug treatment and drug‐related medical consequences; and.

How can you help stop drug problems in your community? ›

Everyday Actions
  • Engaging in meaningful activities. Ask your child/friend/neighbor what their interests are and help connect them to activities that match. ...
  • Life skills and social competence. ...
  • Cultural identity and connection. ...
  • Having positive role models. ...
  • Family connectedness.

What drug companies are in China? ›

Biggest companies in the Pharmaceutical Manufacturin industry in China
  • Jiangsu Yangtze River Pharmaceutical Group Market Share: x.x% lock. ...
  • Shanghai Roche Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd Market Share: x.x% lock. ...
  • Bayer Healthcare Co., Ltd. ...
  • Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical (Group) Co., Ltd. ...
  • Jiangsu Hengrui Medicine Co., Ltd.
19 Oct 2022

What countries allow drug marketing? ›

The United States and New Zealand are the only countries where drug makers are allowed to market prescription drugs directly to consumers. The U.S. consumer drug advertising boom on television began in 1997, when the FDA relaxed its guidelines relating to broadcast media.

What is the biggest drug trade in the world? ›

1. Afghanistan. The biggest producer of opium worldwide, Afghanistan remains the most significant drug trafficking country. The country is the source of 90% of the world's illicit opium and heroin.

How do drugs get approved in China? ›

China's government agencies are involved with review, lab work, and approval by the CDE and NFDC (the testing agency) The JX specification for chemical drugs contains controls for drug product. The JS specification for biologics usually contains controls for the drug substance and drug product.

What is safe approval in China? ›

SAFE is the administrative agency responsible for managing foreign exchange activities in China, setting relevant regulations, and administering China's foreign exchange reserves. SAFE's approval or record-filing is required for a range of transactions involving inbound and outbound forex payments.

Can I send prescription drugs to China? ›

Yes, you can send medicine to China by airmail. However, you need shipping documents such as the medicine prescription copy, invoice copy, and sender ID proof. Do you have to declare prescription drugs at customs? Yes, you must declare prescription drugs at customs.

Is China a controlled market? ›

The CCP maintains that despite the co-existence of private capitalists and entrepreneurs with public and collective enterprise, China is not a capitalist country because the party retains control over the direction of the country, maintaining its course of socialist development.

How many drug companies are in China? ›

Staying ahead of the game. China's healthcare market is highly competitive with over 4,000 pharmaceutical players. Industry giants like Sinopharm and Shanghai Pharmaceuticals usually have strong control over distributor networks, which are essential for reducing costs and achieving faster growth.

Which country is No 1 in pharma? ›

Pharmaceutical Industry Exports
#44 CountriesYoY
1#1 Germany-5.6 %
2#2 Switzerland+9.4 %
3#3 United States+11.7 %
4#4 Ireland+1.0 %
40 more rows

What happens in China if you break the law? ›

Article 33 The principal punishments are as follows: (1) public surveillance; (2) criminal detention; (3) fixed-term imprisonment; (4) life imprisonment; and (5) the death penalty. Article 34 The supplementary punishments are as follows: (1) fine; (2) deprivation of political rights; and (3) confiscation of property.

Does China have a legal system? ›

China adopts a socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics. The system consists of legislative, executive, judicial and legal supervision organs.

Does China use innocent until proven guilty? ›

Article 5 of the criminal procedure law of the People's Republic of China (Draft) drafted in 1957 stipulates that “the defendant shall be presumed innocent before the guilty judgment takes effect”.

What rights are allowed in China? ›

Civil liberties
  • Freedom of speech.
  • Freedom of the press.
  • Hukou system.
  • Freedom of association.
  • Religious freedom.
  • Political freedom.

What restrictions does China have on the Internet? ›

The document states, "Laws and regulations prohibit the spread of information that contains content subverting state power, undermining national unity [or] infringing upon national honor and interests." It adds that foreign individuals and firms can use the Internet in China, but they must abide by the country's laws.

How many kids can u have in China? ›

Three-child policy (Chinese: 三孩政策; pinyin: Sānhái Zhèngcè), whereby a couple can have three children, was a family planning policy in the People's Republic of China.

What happens if you go to jail in China? ›

Criminal detention or Juyi range from one month to six months in a place near one's residence, overseen by the local police department and the convicted is allowed return home one or two days per month. They may need to work while detained and will receive some pay.

What is the crime rate in China? ›

China crime rate & statistics for 2016 was 0.61, a 6.62% decline from 2015.
...
China Crime Rate & Statistics 1995-2022.
China Crime Rate & Statistics - Historical Data
YearPer 100K PopulationAnnual % Change
20180.53-6.26%
20170.56-7.91%
20160.61-6.62%
17 more rows

How many people are on death row in China? ›

Amnesty reported that at least 28,567 people were known to be on death rows around the world at the end of 2019, 7% more than the 26,604 people known to have been on global death rows at the end of 2019.
...
Countries with the Most Death Sentences in 2020**
Country
China
Number269+
Egypt
Number264+
10 more rows

Which country gives most death penalty? ›

China is the world's most active death penalty country; according to Amnesty International, China executes more people than the rest of the world combined each year. However, not all of China is retentionist, as Hong Kong and Macau have abolished it for all crimes before their handover to China.

How common is death penalty in China? ›

China is undoubtedly the country with the most death sentences and executions, but the state media and courts only report or publish a very small number of death penalty cases. They do not officially publish the number of death sentences, of executions, or death sentences by province, crime, age, gender, income, etc.

When did the death penalty start in China? ›

The death penalty has been a part of the Chinese culture for thousands of years. The use of the death penalty was especially pronounced during the rule of the Qin Dynasty (221 BC - 207 BC), according to whom its legality was applied as an ideology with respect to governing through laws without morals.

Why legalizing drugs is good for the economy? ›

-- See NCJ-160030) Drug legalization would benefit the United States in several ways: save Federal, State, and local governments billions of dollars a year; lead to reduced crime and safer neighborhoods; and enhance public health.

What is the best way to prevent drug abuse or addiction? ›

Here are the top five ways to prevent substance abuse:
  1. Understand how substance abuse develops. ...
  2. Avoid Temptation and Peer Pressure. ...
  3. Seek help for mental illness. ...
  4. Examine the risk factors. ...
  5. Keep a well-balanced life.
7 Jul 2021

What are the benefits of drugs? ›

The benefits of medicines are the helpful effects you get when you use them, such as lowering blood pressure, curing infection, or relieving pain. The risks of medicines are the chances that something unwanted or unexpected could happen to you when you use them.

What are four ways you can help someone who is addicted to drugs? ›

Here are seven tips that family and friends can reference to support an addicted family member or friend.
  • Tip #1: Educate Yourself. ...
  • Tip #2: Get Support. ...
  • Tip #3: Get Counseling. ...
  • Tip #4: Seek Specialty Help. ...
  • Tip #5: Don't Enable. ...
  • Tip #6: Have Realistic Expectations. ...
  • Tip #7: Take Care of Yourself.

What is the main cause of drug abuse? ›

Peer pressure is a strong factor in starting to use and misuse drugs, particularly for young people. Lack of family involvement. Difficult family situations or lack of a bond with your parents or siblings may increase the risk of addiction, as can a lack of parental supervision.

What are 10 ways to say no to drugs? ›

How to Say No to Drugs and Alcohol
  1. Make an excuse.
  2. Use a little humor.
  3. Change the subject.
  4. Offer to be the designated driver.
  5. Act like you're too busy.
  6. Explain the dangers of drugs and alcohol.
  7. Be honest.
  8. Keep saying no.

What drugs do we import from China? ›

Last year, China accounted for 95 percent of U.S. imports of ibuprofen, 91 percent of U.S. imports of hydrocortisone, 70 percent of U.S. imports of acetaminophen, 40 to 45 percent of U.S. imports of penicillin and 40 percent of U.S. imports of heparin, according to Commerce Department data.

Which country is the largest producer of drugs? ›

2014
#CountryWorld market share
European Union51.2%
1Germany16%
2United States11%
3Switzerland9.6%
7 more rows

How big is the pharmaceutical industry in China? ›

Overview
Pharmaceutical Market in China20162019 (Estimated)
Pharmaceutical Sales176.776235.02
Prescription Drug Sales92.495124.727
Generic Drug Sales68.63591.252
OTC Medicine Sales15.64619.041
1 more row

Which countries allow direct to consumer advertising for prescription drugs? ›

The US and New Zealand are the two countries with legal direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs.

Why do you think other countries do not allow advertising for prescription drugs? ›

DTCA of prescription pharmaceuticals is banned in most countries due to perceived deleterious effects on rational prescribing, pharmaceutical expenditure, and health outcomes.

How do you market a drug product? ›

14 Pharmaceutical Marketing Strategies
  1. Update Your Website. ...
  2. Invest in Pharma SEO. ...
  3. Use Online Communities to Connect with Physicians. ...
  4. Establish a Social Media Presence. ...
  5. Use Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Technology. ...
  6. Provide Free Samples. ...
  7. Create Visual Aids. ...
  8. Maximize Networking Opportunities.
6 Jun 2022

Who invented drug? ›

The first modern, pharmaceutical medicine was invented in 1804 by Friedrich Sertürner, a German scientist. He extracted the main active chemical from opium in his laboratory and named it morphine, after the Greek god of sleep.

Who is the largest consumer of drugs? ›

The US is the world's largest consumer of illegal drugs. It makes up just 5% of the global population, yet according to most estimates accounts for over 25% of global demand for illicit drugs.

What country is most known for drug trafficking? ›

Most of the U.S. imports of drugs come from Mexican drug cartels. In the United States, around 195 cities have been infiltrated by drug trafficking that originated in Mexico.

What happens if you are caught with drugs in Hong Kong? ›

Penalties for Narcotics Offences

Any person who has in his possession; or smokes, inhales, ingest or injects a dangerous drug, shall be liable upon conviction to a fine HK$ 1,000,000 and imprisonment for 7 years .

What does the drug policy do? ›

Drug policies are usually aimed at combatting drug addiction or dependence addressing both the demand and supply of drugs, as well as mitigating the harms of drug use, and providing medical assistance and treatment.

What happens if you break the law in China? ›

Article 33 The principal punishments are as follows: (1) public surveillance; (2) criminal detention; (3) fixed-term imprisonment; (4) life imprisonment; and (5) the death penalty. Article 34 The supplementary punishments are as follows: (1) fine; (2) deprivation of political rights; and (3) confiscation of property.

What happens if you get caught with coke in Thailand? ›

Drugs. Do not become involved with drugs of any kind. Possession of even very small quantities can lead to imprisonment. If you're found guilty of being in possession of 20 grams of a Class A drug on exiting Thailand you risk receiving the death penalty.

What happens if you take drugs in Singapore? ›

It is an offence for citizens and Singapore Permanent Residents to consume drugs in Singapore and overseas. Consumption of a controlled drug (e.g. 'Ice', heroin and cannabis) is an offence and a person will face imprisonment of a minimum of 1 year and up to 10 years, or a fine not exceeding S$20,000, or both.

Can you buy drugs in Hong Kong? ›

Where do I purchase over-the-counter medicine? As we stated above, over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as paracetamol (Panadol in Hong Kong), cough syrup, antacid, and every other drug that can be sold without a prescription can be found in all of the chain drug stores including Mannings and Watsons.

Why drugs should be legalized? ›

Advocates of drug legalization believe that making high-quality drugs cheaply and widely available will eliminate the illegal drug market, regulate quality and price, and decrease law enforcement costs including arrest and incarceration.

Why should drugs not be legalized? ›

These arguments against drug legalization emphasize addiction, dependency, and treatment issues. If drugs such as heroin are legalized, their price will be reduced significantly, hypodermic needles will be readily available at the neighborhood drug store, and drugs can be purchased anywhere.

What are the 7 rights of drugs? ›

Additional Information
  • The right patient.
  • The right medication (drug)
  • The right dose.
  • The right route.
  • The right time.
  • The right reason.
  • The right documentation.

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