US diplomats at the UN general assembly in New York have unveiled steps aimed at tackling the proliferation of fentanyl and other synthetic drugs which the American secretary of state, Antony Blinken, described as a “global threat”.
At a meeting on Monday, the most senior US diplomat announced the formation of an international coalition to address the crisis, saying that the US “may have been to some extent a canary in the coalmine when it comes to fentanyl, but alas, we are not alone”.
Blinken pointed to fentanyl and other synthetic drugs as the number-one killer of Americans aged 18 to 49. The US recorded 110,000 overdose deaths last year, with more than two-thirds linked to the synthetic opioid.
He noted that the issue of synthetic drugs – which can be created in a room no larger than the stage he was on – was different from the plant-based drug trade that preceded it. That’s because the plant-based trade took “a pretty large-scale enterprise in order to cultivate the crops, bring them to market”.
Blinken said the problem was global in reach, with criminal organizations “exploiting gaps in interconnected systems to bring new drugs to new places in new ways”. Blinken pointed to tramadol in Africa, to fake Captagon pills in the Middle East and to ketamine as well as amphetamines in Asia.
“This crisis has an immeasurable cost,” Blinken said. “It has devastated families. It’s devastated communities. It’s also been overwhelming to our public health and criminal justice systems.”
The diplomat said the US would name an envoy on the issue, introduce a resolution highlighting the global health and security threat of synthetic drugs, and – alongside the UN office on drugs and crime – partner with tech companies to deny traffickers access to online platforms used to market synthetic drugs.
“I have to tell you that as the parent of young children, I’m terrified – terrified at the prospect that they will encounter what seems to be an innocent little pill and that in its small size, has death written all over it,” he added.
The issue was brought home over the weekend in New York City when one-year-old Nicholas Dominici died from a toxic opioid exposure while attending a daycare center in the Bronx.
A package containing several thousand dollars’ worth of fentanyl was later discovered inside the center where a pair of two-year-old boys and an eight-month-old girl were poisoned by the drug.
Fentanyl residue was found underneath a mat where the children had napped, the New York police department’s chief of detectives, Joseph Kenny, said at a news conference. The operator of the home-based Divino Ni?o center and another man who lived there have pleaded not guilty to murder charges.
“We’re not going to allow this incident to take place and ignore this as just another day, another tragedy in the city,” New York City’s mayor, Eric Adams, said at the news conference. Adams said that it was “just total madness” that a daycare was being used to process drugs.
At the UN, Blinken also referred to Dominici’s death.
“This is the day-in, day-out story in the United States,” he said.
In an appeal for international cooperation, he warned his international listeners that the US experience was coming their way. “I just want to tell you, because we’ve lived it, we’re experiencing it here in this country, this is coming,” he remarked.