Fentanyl has disrupted the North American drug market, capitalizing on pre-existing demand for opiates such as heroin and prescription pharmaceuticals. And as we see from the headlines, it has been deadly. But there is more to the story of fentanyl than overdose deaths. When any industry is disrupted, there is displacement and there are indications that the shift to synthetic drugs such as fentanyl is starting to impact those that make a living at the bottom end of the opium and heroin economy in Asia.

In the Golden Triangle we’ve seen a big drop in opium production and wholesale prices. In December, the UN’s Myanmar opium survey reported cultivation dropped by a quarter overall, and in some areas by more than a third. This sounds good, but it is not a clear-cut victory. The decline in opium and heroin production is happening alongside a sustained expansion of synthetic drug production in East and Southeast Asia.

The shift to synthetics is a challenge from Montreal to Myanmar. As we scramble to respond to overdoses in North America, we also need to acknowledge there will be implications for combustible places in Asia such as the Golden Triangle and Myanmar. At the same time, we need to think about solutions – including increased co-operation with Asia focusing on synthetics and the chemical trade, coordinating enforcement efforts that target the top levels of transnational organized crime and market demand.

Fentanyl’s deadly disruptive rise has been most visible on the streets of North America, but its impact is starting to spread. When we see the next fentanyl bust or debate a government plan to turn the situation around, we also need to remember that the illegal drug business is complex and global in nature.

Read the full article at The Globe and Mail here.

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