• WHAT: On-the-Record Briefing
  • WHEN: Tuesday, September 24, 2019 at 12:30 pm
  • WHERE: New York Foreign Press Center 799 UN Plaza, 10th Floor (SW corner of East 45th Street and 1st Avenue)
  • BACKGROUND: Assistant Secretary Madison briefs on international efforts to combat the transnational synthetic drugs threat that is driving America’s opioid crisis and spreading globally. Madison is in New York for 2019 Concordia Summit synthetic drugs event, which will launch U.S. government and private sector partnerships initiatives to combat the synthetic drug crisis. Following her remarks, Assistant Secretary Madison will participate in a question and answer session with journalists.


MODERATOR:  All right, so good afternoon and welcome to the Foreign Press Center in New York.  I’m Liz Detmeister, the director.  This is Kirsten Madison.  She is the assistant secretary for international narcotics and law enforcement, and she’ll be giving opening remarks and then taking questions from you.  If I could ask you to silence your cell phones, and when we pass the microphones around for questions, if you would start by identifying yourself by your name and your outlet.  This is on the record.  We are being live-streamed and a transcript will be available afterward.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MADISON:  Good afternoon, everyone.  First of all, thank you very much for taking the time to join us here at the Foreign Press Center.  Truly, we know that there is no shortage of news today and this week, so I am very encouraged on your – because of your interest on the pressing issue of synthetic drugs and opioids.

This challenge really does desperately need attention, not only from officials here in this town, from officials in Washington and capitals around the world, but also from companies and citizens and communicators such as yourself.  The synthetic drug crisis which has fueled the latest wave of America’s opioid epidemic is a transnational phenomenon.  It’s metastasizing, it’s proliferating around the world, and countering requires the urgent attention and action of the entire international community.  I will say this very clearly:  There is no room for complacency.

My part of the U.S. Department of State, the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, plays a key role in the global fight against these increasingly cheap, abundant, and lethal illicit synthetic drugs.  We use our diplomacy and our foreign assistance tools, and we put those to work in this effort.  This complements the work done by our law enforcement agencies and the many others who are focused on prevention, treatment, and recovery here in the United States.  And all of those pieces are really important in this larger puzzle.

But we also know, because this is a dynamic threat, that we need to look beyond our traditional partnerships if we really hope to confront it in a meaningful and significant way.  That’s why later today I am pleased to be joining major companies at the Concordia Summit to launch a new international initiative with the private sector.  What we’re trying to do is connect with the private sector, with their creativity, with their dynamism, and to figure out what else we might be able to do together to take this issue on.

Today’s drug crisis, turbocharged by globalization and new technology, really does take advantage of private sector platforms and goods.  Increasingly, synthetics are being sold on the dark net and paid for with anonymizing financial instruments like cryptocurrencies.  They’re dropped in the mail or consignment-shipped into towns and cities across America.  It’s a dangerously diffuse, dangerously accessible supply chain.  It is a direct-to-consumer marketing business model.

The private sector, we believe, can help prevent and combat the manufacture, diversion, sale, and misuse of illicit drugs and precursor chemicals by mobilizing their unique resources, technologies, and expertise.  We also know that companies can be important partners in prevention and treatment, because after all, they have an interest in the people that work for them and the communities in which they’re present.

So let me stop there and just begin – or, to say once again thank you for being here, and that I welcome your questions.

QUESTION:  Oh, thank you.  Are we talking about illicitly made drugs or commercially available drugs that are diverted to the black market, or both?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MADISON:  We’re talking about both.  I think what’s going on in the synthetic drug market is really both.  We focus in my bureau primarily on the international sources of illicitly marketed or illicitly produced drugs, but I think it’s both.

QUESTION:  Hi, my name is David McClure from NHK Japan Broadcasting Corporation.  You said that you are going to be speaking at a summit where the entire purpose is to help the private sector come into trying to establish some sort of path forward.  Specifically, what kind of companies are you looking for?  Who are the actors here?  What are the ways forward?

And then what specifically – you mentioned this is a global international issue.  Are there any specific avenues that are of particular concern that you’re specifically trying to work on addressing, any specific global actors that are difficult in helping the situation?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MADISON:  So let me say again this is a global challenge.  We know early on that – and on a continuing basis – that China is the source of many of the synthetic opioids, and they have been the source of some of the precursor chemicals.  We’ve been working with China on that.  Their president agreed with our president that they would take more action to control particularly fentanyls and synthetics as a class, which we think is a – which we think is a great step.

We are beginning to see production and transit through Mexico, and that’s something that’s part of our conversation with the Government of Mexico.  And the question of how we work together going forward is really important not only to our citizens but also to Mexico.

On the bigger question on the companies, so again, the business model here is actually quite different than old business models, if you were talking about traditional trafficking and marketing in things like cocaine.  So what happens is that the synthetic opioids that we’re seeing that are impacting the U.S. so dramatically, again, it’s direct-to-consumer marketing.  They might use the dark net, peer-to-peer apps, pay for them with anonymizing currencies and financial instruments.  And then they get dropped into the mail, and then they get dropped into consignment shipping.

So we’re interested in a conversation with companies that use those platforms and are involved in those activities, but we also want to have a conversation with companies that are in the – in chemical and pharmaceutical industries, because what we’re after is the best possible coalition of partners to go after all of the pieces of the business model.  And I have seen it in other areas, like wildlife trafficking, where there’s a lot of creativity in the private sector around the idea that they have something to contribute to addressing these issues and to ensuring that their businesses are not inadvertently complicit in these activities.

Thank you.

QUESTION:  Does the State Department have a position on the proposed settlement with Purdue Pharma?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MADISON:  That’s not something I’m in a position to discuss.  The State Department – my focus is international partnerships to address these issues and the use of our diplomacy and foreign assistance in this effort.

MODERATOR:  Any other questions?

QUESTION:  Hi.  Kinue Weinstein from Japanese newspaper Shukan NY Seikatsu.  I would like to ask you that why that the United States is unproportionally a problem of the usage of opioid.  Statistics shows in the website the U.S. is by far – 47,000 DBOs and then 2013 to ’15 – this is just a glance from our website.  U.S. is by far the opioid – main opioid user, followed by Germany, which is less than – well, much less, 30,000.  But in Japan, for example, which I’m writing for, is much lower.  And followed by other countries, much, much lower.  The U.S. is particularly outstanding.  I would like to ask you:  Why so?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MADISON:  Thank you for the question.  Let me begin by saying yes, we have a significant problem in this country.  It’s why this administration – the U.S. Congress, and President Trump’s administration have concentrated a lot of resources on prevention and treatment and recovery at home, because we recognize there’s a piece of this that is about what’s happening here in the United States.

The United States does have a big problem.  We are not the only country.  I think Canada is experiencing a very profound problem with synthetic opioids, and we know that the other countries are beginning to experience these problems, and we know that they have popped up in 37 countries around the world.  I just saw another report that said actually they have shown up in 51 countries.  So it could be as low as 37, as high as 51.  The point is that this is a global issue.  And our concern is that every step that we can take in partnership with our counterparts internationally, with industry, with NGOs, to ensure that other countries don’t experience what we have, we should take.

I think the United States had some very particular things go on.  There was – it began in the – in over-prescription, but it’s also was connected to what happened in the illicit markets and the response of illicit actors to the demand signal.  And I think it began to sort of grow and build to a point that’s really catastrophic.  Again, we’re working on it domestically, but I don’t think any country should be complacent about the possibility of this particular problem coming to them.  We’re not unique, and it’s popping up in more places, and that’s why, from our perspective, it requires a global response and an urgent one.

QUESTION:  Hello.  My name is Stefan Beutelsbacher.  I work with a German newspaper.  I had one question regarding the private sector partnership you mentioned.  Could you be more specific?  Or maybe I missed this, but which companies are you working with specifically in the U.S.?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MADISON:  So the – our effort this afternoon at the Concordia Summit is actually to sit down with companies and begin a conversation about what else we might do with them.  So there’s quite a lot of companies that are represented at that venue.  I think more specifically, this administration, which is – this is outside of my purview, but this administration has issued a series of advisories to companies that are involved in the industries that I listed earlier.  That’s intended to help those companies understand the potential for their business to be used as a mechanism for the moving of illicit, synthetic opioids.  I don’t actually have the list of companies, but the point is we’re – there’s a dialogue between the administration and companies already, and what we’re doing this afternoon really is trying to tap into that energy from the private sector and figure out who else we might be able to work with on these issues.  So we’re at the beginning of the process, in my world.

MODERATOR:  I think we have time for one more question.

QUESTION:  Hi.  I’m Clarissa McNair with World Radio Paris.  Is there any way to put a number on the international narcotics trade?  I know that – I think the top three are guns, counterfeiting, and drugs.  Would you place what you’re doing at the top in fighting this or two or three?  Any way to know?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MADISON:  So that is a very difficult question.  There is – there was a really interesting report done – it’s been awhile now – but done by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime where they looked at global patterns of criminality.  And the reality is that sort of international criminality is billions and billions of dollars a year.  And I think drugs are actually a pretty significant piece of it.  I would – I can’t give you the specific numbers.  We know that wildlife trafficking is huge.  We know that trafficking in illicit gold and timber is quite large.

But all of these things taken together, regardless of how you break it out, really present a fundamental challenge to the things that we care about and so many of our partners care about, and the effort to sort of improve the rule of law and root out corruption and do the things that position countries to be successful.  So we’re very focused in places like in the Western Hemisphere but also around the world, trying to help countries deal with the consequences of this.

So it’s billions of dollars.  We’re up against a big fight.  And it doesn’t really matter how you rack and stack them; it’s a question of dealing with the challenge that countries have.  Some countries have enormous problems with wildlife trafficking; they don’t have significant problems with drugs.  So for us, it’s just about the tools that we can help countries build to take on – take it on.  And sorry I don’t have a number for you, but it – suffice to say the countries that are working on this know that they’re confronting a multibillion-dollar reality that’s working against the things that we care about around the world.

QUESTION:  Thank you.


MODERATOR:  We have time for one more.  One more last question?


QUESTION:  You mentioned about the drug coming from China, you mentioned.  But isn’t that more of a problem buyers, the consumer market in the States, or the pharmaceutical industries, and they’re the one who address it, because no matter what you do drug will come in from abroad?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MADISON:  So as I said before, I think it’s very hard to say it’s this or that or one other thing.  I think drug – the drug issue is extraordinarily complicated.  I think you must do evidence-based prevention, treatment, and recovery programs at the same time that you are working with countries that are the source or transit countries for these drugs or producers, right.  And you have to do sort of everything in between.  I don’t think there is a simple answer to the question of how you get at this.  And that’s our challenge.

The good news is that I think over time we’ve begun to build a lot of valuable partnerships and a lot of skills and capabilities that allow us to work with countries around the world.  And we’ve done some of that through the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the International Narcotics Control Board, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, so that you have a global framework and you have tools on an international level to work on it, the bilateral work.  And then there’s the work that each of our countries does at home on dealing with the demand piece of it.  And my personal view is that you have to do all of it, and you have to be consistent, and you have to be prepared to be agile, because the criminals are most assuredly that.

MODERATOR:  So thank you so much, and this concludes the briefing.  Thank you, Assistant Secretary Madison for coming.  And we will post the transcript as soon as it’s available.

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U.S. Department of State

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