It's one of the strongest opioids in circulation, so deadly an amount smaller than a poppy seed can kill a person. Until July, when reports of carfentanil overdoses began to surface in the US, the substance was best known for knocking out moose and elephants—or as a chemical weapon. Despite the dangers, Chinese vendors offer to sell carfentanil openly online, for worldwide export, no questions asked, an AP investigation has found. The AP identified 12 Chinese businesses that said they would export carfentanil to the US for as little as $2,750 a kilogram. "We can supply carfentanil ... for sure," a saleswoman from Jilin Tely Import and Export Co. wrote in an email. "And it's one of our hot sales product."
Carfentanil burst into view this summer as the latest scourge in an epidemic of opioid abuse that has killed tens of thousands in the US alone. In China, the top global source of synthetic drugs, carfentanil is not a controlled substance. The US government is pressing China to blacklist it, but Beijing has yet to act. Carfentanil is 100 times more powerful than fentanyl, a related drug that is itself up to 50 times stronger than heroin. It was researched as a chemical weapon by the US and others. It's even banned from the battlefield. China is not blind to the key role its chemists play in the opioid supply chain. Most synthetic drugs that end up in the US come from China, according to the DEA. (Read more opioids stories.)