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U.S. sanctions Chinese national accused of trafficking fentanyl

Aug. 25 (UPI) -- The Trump administration on Tuesday blacklisted a Chinese chemist, accusing him of shipping synthetic opioids into the United States.

The Treasury Department imposed sanctions against Zhang Taotao, 32, who it accused of shipping fentanyl into the United States by disguising the origin of the illicit drug through the use of multiple freight-forwarding services and by using false labels to avoid seizure by port authorities.

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Once in the United States, U.S.-based distributors pressed 1 kilogram of the drug into 1 million counterfeit pharmaceutical pills that are then distributed to American customers, the federal agency said.

"Fentanyl has wreaked havoc on American communities and families," Deputy Treasury Secretary Justin Muzinich said in a statement. "The United States remains committed to protecting vulnerable Americans by targeting individuals peddling this deadly drug."

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Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is between 50 and 100 times more potent than morphine and has contributed to a six-fold increase in overdose deaths since 1999, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

In 2018 alone, more than 31,000 people died from overdoses involving synthetic opioids, the center said, adding that the number of states reporting more than 20 fentanyl confiscations every six months has been increasing.

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Susan Gibson, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's New Jersey Division, said fentanyl has "plagued" her state over the last few years, and is a major cause for its more than 9,000 overdose deaths since 2017.

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The Treasury said the "vast majority" of the fentanyl responsible for overdose deaths originates from China and is smuggled into the United States through the mail and express consignment carriers.

And Zhang is "one of the most significant drug traffickers in the world," U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on Tuesday.

The sanctions freeze of all Zhang's U.S. assets and prohibit any U.S. citizen from doing business with him or face the possibility of being sanctioned themselves.

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His company, Allyrise Technology Group Co., Limited, is being targeted as being a front company for Zhang's financial transactions, the Treasury said.

Pompeo said Tuesday's move is part of a "whole-of-government effort" to combat the production and trafficking of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids from the People's Republic of China, which he called on to do more to stymie this illegal business.

"The United States continues to seek cooperation with the PRC to tackle this supply chain treat and calls on the PRC government to accelerate efforts to regulate its chemical industry and reduce the diversion of precursors into the international black market," he said.

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