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Secretary Antony J. Blinken at the Addressing the Public Health and Security Threat of Synthetic Drugs through Global Cooperation Event


SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, good afternoon, everyone.  Thank you so much for being here this afternoon.  And in particular, I have to say it’s great to be joined by colleagues from dozens of national governments, civil society groups, and the private sector.  This group, in all its diversity, demonstrates a fundamental truth about the synthetic drug crisis:  No part of the world is immune.  To effectively protect our people, we need to work together across governments, across regions, across sectors.  I just had a brief glimpse at the video a moment ago, and I think it’s very powerful – even those few short minutes – the profound threat that synthetic drugs pose as an urgent public health threat to our people.

Here in the United States, synthetic drugs are the number-one killer of Americans aged 18 to 49.  We had nearly 110,000 overdose deaths last year in the United States; more than two thirds of those had a synthetic opioid like fentanyl involved in the death.  This crisis has an immeasurable cost.  It has devastated families.  It’s devastated communities.  It’s also been overwhelming to our public health and criminal justice systems.

But here is the reality.  The United States may have been to some extent a canary in the coal mine when it comes to fentanyl, but alas, we are not alone.  Criminal organizations trafficking drugs are exploiting gaps in our interconnected system to bring new drugs to new places in new ways.  And every region across the globe is experiencing an alarming rise in synthetic drugs, from tramadol in Africa, to fake Captagon pills in the Middle East, to ketamine and amphetamines in Asia.

In Australia last year, law enforcement seized 5 million doses of fentanyl, each one potentially lethal and reflecting the largest shipment authorities had ever seen.  In the European Union, 41 never-seen-before synthetic substances were reported just last year.  As the UN Office on Drugs and Crime has found, the synthetic drug trade in Asia has now reached, and I quote, “extreme levels.”

We launched the Global Coalition to Address Synthetic Drug Threats in recognition of the scale of this challenge and of the need for strong, coordinated, international action.  In July, we convened the first ministerial, joined by officials from more than 80 other countries and leaders from over a dozen regional and international organizations.  This month, the three working groups that we launched focused on preventing the illicit manufacture and trafficking of synthetic drugs and their chemical precursors, detecting emerging drug threats, and promoting public health solutions.  These working groups held their first meetings.

Now, we have brought together representatives from over a hundred countries from every region in the world, as well as civil society and the private sector, to channel the experience and expertise of the broader global community into concrete and effective solutions:  public health solutions, as we’re seeing in Kazakhstan, which just launched a new three-year plan that provides record investments to help minors who are suffering from substance use disorders; law enforcement interventions, like the national coalition set up by Honduras bringing together the military, the police, prosecutors, the private sector to improve the regulation of legal precursors coming into the country; novel solutions that engage experts, including scientists, like the UN’s efforts to help build the capacity of more than 300 national forensic laboratories in 96 countries, training scientists, providing technological tools to help them better detect synthetic drugs.

These are precisely the kind of interventions that we’ll share, we’ll replicate, we will bring to scale through this global coalition while supporting other best practices, like expanded information sharing between governments and the private sector, stronger shipment labeling standards, and know-your-customer practices to help prevent the diversion of precursors into illicit use.  At same time, we will continue to use every tool in our diplomatic toolkit to tackle this crisis.  That’s why this year we are providing more than $100 million to help our partners better detect, identify, and interdict drugs, and to provide vital treatment and prevention services.

Already, we’ve supported projects to create a new surveillance system to monitor new narcotic substances through the World Health Organization, to connect people in the criminal justice system in partner countries with effective health treatments like rehabilitation, and to create an online platform for law enforcement around the world to share information about emerging drug threats.

And to build on our diplomatic efforts, we are taking three additional steps, each with the goal of translating action – initiative, excuse me, into action.

First, the United States will name an envoy to elevate our diplomacy on this issue, working with countries around the world to confront this global threat.

Second, later this year in December, the United States will introduce a resolution at the United Nations General Assembly highlighting the global health and security threat of synthetic drugs and urging international action to address them.  We’re already working with our partners to help build consensus for the text.  We welcome all countries joining as co-sponsors.

And third, the United States, alongside of UNODC, will be partnering with tech companies in the fight against illicit drugs.  Among other things, we’ll be focused on finding ways to deny criminals access to online platforms to market dangerous drugs, as well as developing tools to help those seeking treatment options for substance use disorders.

Now, several of you in this audience are already partnering with us, and we look forward to more joining the effort.

So as you can see, we are laser-focused on taking concrete steps so that we can help save lives, the lives not just of Americans but of people around the world.  There is no issue that is more obviously one that requires, that demands, that urgently needs, international cooperation than this one.  But I am convinced that if we work together and if we act together, we can make a profound difference, a profound difference in literally saving lives.

So to everyone here today, thank you, thank you, thank you.  Thank you for your work on this crisis.  Thank you for your commitment to partnership.  Thank you for all that you’re doing to save lives.

And with that, I’d like to invite my fellow panelists to come up and join us on the stage.

[Panel]

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  The most important thing we can do is be very practically minded and practically focused.  And so we have these big meetings, including this week in New York.  We bring a lot of people together.  But as I like to say, what’s really important is not the one day you meet, it’s the 364 days that follow in terms of what you do.  And so for this coalition, we’ve been very focused on bringing this down to very concrete, focused working groups.

And so out of the initial coalition meeting, we developed three working groups, three broad working groups: first, to look at what we can do to more effectively stop the illegal manufacture or illegal trafficking of synthetic opioids or their precursors; second, a group to focus on emerging uses and use patterns to make sure that to the best of our ability, we see in real time something that is popping up before it’s too late; and third, to really focus on prevention, on treatment, on remediation because fundamentally, for so many of us, this is really a public health challenge and we want to make sure that across the board, our public health systems are functioning effectively.

And the idea of these working groups is to bring tremendous expertise together across countries, across sectors, because it’s critical that we engage the private sector.  If we’re dealing, for example, with the illegal diversion of chemical precursors, well, we want to make sure that we’re getting with the chemical manufacturers, the shipping companies.  If we’re looking at the online trade of these drugs, we want to be working with the platforms.  So all of that is coming together.

We now have, as a result of this initial coalition meeting and a meeting we had just this past week of the working groups, we now have 107 countries, organizations, and 900 people come together to start the work of these groups.  There are going to be subgroups that focus in on very specific issues, looking at best practices, looking at what each of us has learned.  I’m convinced –I think most of you are as well who’ve been engaged in these issues for years – that somewhere in the world on any given problem, someone has found the solution; the challenge is sharing that information.  So a big part of the power of this coalition is to make sure that we are sharing good ideas, best practices.

And then we’ll probably put them to work.  And Ghada, something you said is really important.  This effort is supportive of and complementary to the incredible work that the UN is doing and ODC has been doing and various other initiatives.  And we want to feed our efforts, our results, into this work.  We hope to have a resolution that brings together as many countries as possible to raise awareness of this issue, and then the very important meetings that are happening next year will be feeding all of this in.  This is a – this coalition is, in a sense, a time-limited enterprise.  By the end of 2024, we want to achieve very concrete results, concrete policies, practices, ideas that hopefully can be shared.

And the last thing I’ll say is this.  There’s a difference between plant-based drugs and these synthetic drugs.  And it goes to this:  The plant-based drugs generally take a pretty large-scale enterprise in order to cultivate the crops, bring them to market, et cetera.  We know that when it comes to a synthetic opioid, a room the size of the platform we’re on is big enough to produce tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of pills this size that can easily be shipped over borders, into communities, into homes.

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.

I read the papers today here in New York.  There was just an incident that seems to be involving synthetic opioids at a daycare facility for small children, aged two and three years old, that somehow came into contact with a synthetic opioid.  One of them died; the others are in serious condition.  This is the day-in, day-out story in the United States, and we have to be able to do both things at the same time.  We have to be able to deal with the ongoing problems of things like cocaine.  But I just want to tell you, because we’ve lived it, we’re experiencing it here in this country, this is coming.  This is coming.  And the more we can work together to help deal with the problem that all of us have but the problem that is coming to many others, the better off we’ll be.  And my hope is that the very practically focused work of this coalition will help us get some results.

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