I would like to start by thanking South Korea for sponsoring today’s event and inviting me to speak. The international community has entered a critical phase in the fight against illicit narcotics. While we continue to fight traditional drug trafficking modalities, a new illicit business model has taken shape. It is clear the private sector has a growing role to play and is an important ally to governments in our efforts to battle this new criminal business model.
Today’s synthetic drug crisis is fueled by criminal organizations that exploit private sector platforms to enable their illegal activities. The anonymity and convenience of the internet, encrypted peer-to-peer messaging apps, and other communications technologies allow these criminal organizations to aggressively market and sell drugs directly to clients on a global scale. The potency of trace amounts of synthetic drugs means small, hard-to-detect quantities can be easily shipped through the mail. Clearly, this is a dangerously accessible and diffuse supply chain — a direct–to–consumer business model that bypasses and evades our usual countermeasures for stopping and bringing to justice traditional plant-based drug traffickers.
The effectiveness of that business model has exacerbated America’s deadliest drug epidemic in history, the opioid crisis. But the United States is not alone. As the 2020 UN World Drug Report informs us, this phenomenon is escalating globally and countering this emerging threat requires a new approach.
Governments cannot address these enormous challenges alone. Efforts to stop illicit synthetic drug production, diversion, and trafficking require expanded cooperation with private industry. Last year, the CND recognized the growing importance of engaging the private sector in resolution 63/1, which promoted efforts by member states to address and counter the world drug problem, in particular supply reduction-related measures, through effective partnerships with private sector entities. This has long been a domestic and multilateral policy priority for the United States. Legislative solutions, such as know-your-customer laws, are important tools in advancing our collective response to emerging synthetic drug challenges. In addition to regulatory solutions, the U.S. government is actively seeking greater voluntary cooperation with private sector industries that are increasingly misused by traffickers. We have some excellent examples of cross-sectoral collaboration from across the U.S. government that I would like to highlight today.
Last August, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) launched an e-commerce outreach program intended to reduce the availability of dangerous and often fatal counterfeit prescription drugs in the United States. The initiative aims to educate online retailers about the sale of pill presses and components used in the production of illicit and often deadly counterfeit pills. The initiative resulted in dialogue with several online retailers to encourage compliance with regulations and restriction of the sale of these products. Notably, Amazon was the first to ban all sales of tableting and encapsulating machines and pill punches from its sales/online platform.
In another example of coordination, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, and the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) launched a 120-day pilot program last June to curb the availability of unapproved opioids illegally offered for sale online. Under the pilot, the FDA notified internet domain name registries that participated in the pilot – Registry Services (formerly Neustar), Verisign, and Public Interest Registry – when the agency sent a warning letter to a website operator and the website operator did not respond adequately within the required timeframe. The domain name registries reviewed the FDA’s notifications and assessed whether to take further voluntary action, including possible domain name suspensions or blocks. As a result of this initiative, nearly 30 domain names associated with websites that were selling unapproved opioids to U.S. consumers became inaccessible to the public.
While it is disconcerting that the new synthetic drug business model has already globalized and continues to grow, it is also heartening to see that the international community and private sector are intensely collaborating to implement groundbreaking strategies to attack the illicit supply chain at every level. I look forward to hearing more examples from my esteemed co-panelists on what has worked well in their countries and industries to minimize this threat from drug traffickers.