So deadly it's considered a terrorist threat, carfentanil has been legal in China—until now. Beijing is banning carfentanil and three similar drugs as of March 1, China's Ministry of Public Security said Thursday, closing a major regulatory loophole in the fight to end America's opioid epidemic. The US Drug Enforcement Administration calls China's move a potential "game-changer" that is likely to have a big impact in the US, where opioid demand has driven the proliferation of a new class of deadly drugs made by nimble chemists to stay one step ahead of new rules like this one. After China controlled 116 synthetic drugs in October 2015, seizures in the United States of compounds on that list plunged, reports the AP. "We're persuaded it will have a definite impact," says a DEA special agent.
Legally used as an anesthetic for elephants and other large animals, carfentanil burst into the North American drug supply last summer, causing hundreds of unsuspecting drug users to overdose. The DEA confirmed more than 400 seizures of carfentanil across eight US states from July through October. So lethal an amount smaller than a poppy seed can kill a person, carfentanil was researched for years as a chemical weapon and used by Russian forces to subdue Chechen separatists at a Moscow theater in 2002. The ban will also apply to carfentanil's less-potent cousins furanyl fentanyl, acryl fentanyl and valeryl fentanyl. In September, a coroner in Ohio confirmed the country's first fatal drug overdoses caused by carfentanil; more on that here. (Read more carfentanil stories.)