NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, 799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, 10TH FLOOR
MODERATOR: So, welcome to the New York Foreign Press Center. Thank you for joining us during this year’s UN General Assembly High-Level Week. My name is Najlaa Abdus-Samad and I am today’s moderator.
This morning we have Ambassador Todd Robinson, U.S. Department of State’s assistant secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. Ambassador Robinson will provide a readout of Secretary Blinken’s event yesterday, “Addressing the public health and security threats of synthetic drugs through global cooperation,” and then he will take questions.
This briefing is on the record, livestreamed, and the transcript will be available on fpc.state.gov. Ambassador Robinson, over to you, sir, for opening remarks.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON: Thank you. Good morning and thank you for joining me on this bright and early Tuesday morning. I hope you are all enjoying a pleasant start to UNGA leaders’ week. I’m here today to discuss the efforts we are undertaking here at home and with our partners to confront the important issue of synthetic drugs. This is a public health and security emergency for the United States and for our international partners, and making progress absolutely requires us to work together.
Synthetic drugs such as fentanyl and methamphetamine pose a grave risk to communities in the United States. The consequences of the misuse of these drugs are devastating, as evidenced by the alarming statistics you may already be familiar with. In 2022, the CDC estimated that nearly 110 Americans lost their lives to drug overdoses. Fentanyl is now the leading cause of death among Americans ages 18 to 49. These dangers are not limited to the United States. As numerous countries face increasing threat from synthetic drugs like Tramadol, Captagon, MDMA, and Ketamine, criminals continually adapt by devising new synthetic drugs, adjusting formulas to avoid international controls and domestic regulations, generating new demand and creating new markets.
One striking statistic to consider: Over the past decade, more than 1,100 new synthetic drugs were detected and reported to the United Nations. For countries that have not yet seen these drugs, it is only a matter of time. With this in mind, yesterday, here on the margins of the 78th UN General Assembly, the United States convened current and prospective members of the Global Coalition to Address Synthetic Drug Threats, international organizations, and civil society and private sector partners.
Launched by Secretary Blinken just over two months ago, the coalition already includes over a hundred countries and international organizations committed to advancing action on this issue. The coalition aims to unite countries worldwide in a concerted effort to combat the illicit manufacture and trafficking of synthetic drugs as well as to advance strengthened health processes. By working together, we can more quickly identify emerging synthetic drug trends and use patterns and respond more effectively to the public health impacts that they impose.
We are off to a strong start. Panelists at yesterday’s event discussed national, regional, and international responses to the shared global health and security threats posed by synthetic drugs and endorsed the coalition’s three primary areas of focus: preventing the illicit manufacture and trafficking of synthetic drugs, detecting emerging drug threats and use patterns, and promoting public health interventions and services to prevent and reduce drug use, overdose, and other related harms.
Secretary Blinken emphasized the shared challenge communities around the world face from synthetic drugs, ranging from fentanyl in the United States to carfentanil in Argentina, methamphetamine in Southeast Asia, Captagon in the Middle East, and the list goes on. And he emphasized action, pointing to the global coalition’s launch of three working groups earlier this month. Nearly 900 participants from 101 countries and international organizations joined these meetings. They will meet again in March and September 2024 to review progress and discuss next steps.
To build on that momentum, next month, the global coalition will launch seven sub-working groups where experts will work together to identify concrete measures and deliverables to address synthetic drugs designed to result in action at the national, regional, and international levels.
Yes, there are many countries in the world that have not experienced the significant deadly impact of synthetic drugs – not yet. As the Secretary has stated, when it comes to synthetic drugs like fentanyl, the United States is the canary in the coal mine, a warning of impending and growing danger. The Department of State stands ready to help. We are providing more than $100 million this year to build the capacity of our partners to detect, identify, and interdict synthetic drugs as well as to build vital treatment and prevention services.
And the United States has already been working with partners like Mexico, Canada, the Netherlands, and other countries to drive (urban) – urgent global action to disrupt the synthetic drug trade from beginning to end. We are engaging with countries including India to strengthen our partnerships on securing pharmaceutical and chemical supply chains to prevent criminal diversion of dual-use precursor chemicals. And we will remain committed to engaging with the PRC to address the threat illicit synthetic drugs pose to our countries.
Finally, I’ll emphasize that we have much more work to do. The United States will convene global coalition – will convene global – will convene the Global Coalition to Address Synthetic Drug Threats members again on the margins of the 67th UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in March 2024 to gauge progress and continue to galvanize action on this issue. And I want to express my gratitude to our international partners who have already joined us in this crucial endeavor. The fight against synthetic drugs requires a united response, and we are confident that the coordinated global efforts will yield significant results. Together, we can create a safer and healthier future for our citizens and generations to come.
Thank you, and I look forward to your questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador Robinson. And now I’ll ask some pre-submitted questions: “Ambassador, some countries do not seem to have major synthetic drug issues. Are those countries also part of the Global Coalition to Address Synthetic Drug Threats?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON: Absolutely. We have countries that don’t have a problem yet but will have a problem, we have countries that we think have a problem but probably don’t know it, and then we have those countries that are – that will have a problem. This is a growing threat; everyone that wants to be part of the solution is welcome to join us, including the PRC, and we look forward to working with them.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador. Olivier Omahony of Paris Match, France, asks the following question – ah, welcome.
QUESTION: I made it, yeah.
MODERATOR: Welcome, I’m glad you’re here.
QUESTION: Me, too.
MODERATOR: Would you like to ask your question that you pre-submitted?
QUESTION: Yeah. Thank you, sir. So my question is: What is the main point of entry in America for fentanyl and tranq – I believe that’s the drug? What are the main point of entries?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON: Right now we believe the main points of entry are along our southwest border, Mexico’s northeast border. We believe the chain begins in the PRC with precursor chemicals, which are transferred to transnational organized criminals in Mexico, who create and press these pills and then ship them north to the United States. That’s the main point of entry. But we also know that there are other countries along the supply trade – the supply chain. Colombia is one, Ecuador is one. We know that there are supplies coming from Asia. So there are any number of points affecting the United States, and not just the United States, the Western Hemisphere. But Mexico is the main point of entry for the United States.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador. May I ask you to state your name, media organization, and country, and you’re welcome to ask a question.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Good morning, Ambassador. Thank you very much. Juan Marilano from Caracol TV, Colombia. Ambassador, I want to ask you about plant-based drugs, okay, mostly. Last week, Colombia was certified by President Biden in the fight against drug – major illicit – countries of transit of drugs. But it was certified. President Biden urged the Colombian authorities, in order to increase the presence of the state in the territories. What happened with the interdiction and with the eradication? Are you urging also Colombia to increase efforts along these lines? And also, what did you think about the national drug policy, the new national drug policy that was presented by Minister Nestor Osuna?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON: Well, to answer your first question, we agree – I agree with the President’s assessment. I think Colombia – the Colombian Government needs to do more to bring security to its citizens in rural areas around Colombia. And we are willing to help them do that. You will recall that part of President Petro’s campaign was exactly that: to bring greater security to rural areas. We want to help them do that, and we’re working with them, looking at ways that we can be more helpful.
I’m sorry, remind me of your second question.
QUESTION: What did you think about the national drug policy, the new plan by the Petro administration, that was presented by Minister Osuna?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON: Well, as you know, we are still analyzing that plan. We are happy that they have a national plan now. We think initially that there are parts of it that are going to work very well. We believe, again, that we have to focus on rural security, we have to focus on environmental crimes that are being committed by these transnational organizations. We believe that there’s more that we can do on interdiction.
I don’t believe the Colombian Government has walked away completely from eradication, and we will have to adjust our operations and the work we’re doing with them on eradication. But there are areas that we are going to have to analyze more closely. The idea of creating markets for plant-based narcotics is one that we have seen tried around the world, and doesn’t really work. So while we – while there are parts of the program that we believe are going to be helpful, there are parts that are of concern to us, and we will have to work with our great partners in Colombia on those things.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Ambassador, next question is from Albania – MCN TV, Robert Papa. And he asks: “Why is the U.S. soft on the Albanian Government when there is reporting of drug trafficking in Albania?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON: Well, what I would say is, number one, the Albanian Government and the Albanian people have been great partners across the board with the United States on rule of law issues, on counter-narcotic issues, on transparency and good governance. Right now Albania is not a member of the coalition, but we look forward to their being a member. We believe there are areas where they can – their input would be most useful. We want to continue to encourage the Albanian Government on the positive path they are on, on the issues that are of concern to us, and we want to help them along the way for their desire to closer relations with the European Union. We believe Euro-Atlantic integration is part of their – is a major priority for Albania, and we want to be helpful in getting them there.
MODERATOR: Are there any other questions in the room? Because we have a few questions outside the room. Please, over to France.
QUESTION: Maybe I have one. I mean, with respect to my country, France, I mean, do you have any insight, I mean, how France is exposed to that crisis, this tragedy?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON: Well, I won’t talk about France specifically, but I will say Europe is awash in methamphetamine. And as we heard yesterday from Minister Johansson, methamphetamine is being created, it’s being produced in Europe. So this is a major problem. This is why we say synthetic drugs are not a United States problem, this is a global problem, and all countries either are already suffering from this or will suffer from this in the future. We believe no one – no one country is at fault. We’re not blaming anyone, but we want to create this global coalition so that we can all take advantage of the best practices around the world in addressing this issue.
QUESTION: And without blaming anyone, can you please be more specific about where it’s being made?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON: It’s being made all over.
QUESTION: Which country?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON: I mean, we know there are transnational criminal organizations in warzones – for instance, Ukraine. We know there are criminal organizations moving in and out of Russia. We know that there are criminal organizations across Europe that are taking advantage of the fact that criminals don’t have to recognize borders, they don’t have to worry about transparency. And they are challenging government and Western democracies to do a better job of getting after them, getting after these organizations. The Europeans are doing what they can. The United States wants to help, and we believe by building this global coalition we will be able to help.
MODERATOR: Ambassador, I think you touched on the next question, but I’ll ask it just to make sure if there’s anything else you’d like to add. It’s from Germany. Annette Meiritz asks – she’s from Handelsblatt media organization: “Could you elaborate a bit on the specific role of European countries like Germany? How important is the cooperation on fighting synthetic drugs with Brussels and Berlin? And is there anything the EU could do to improve those efforts?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON: Well, number one, the specific role of European countries is clear. Their sharing of information, cooperation with law enforcement agencies around the world and the United States, the cooperation within the European Union is growing, and this is very important. So countries like Germany, countries like France, countries like Spain and Italy, the Netherlands are all working very closely to engage with their partners in Europe, engage with other countries around the world.
There will be a meeting of ministers of interior in Brussels soon, as announced by Minister Johansson yesterday, with their counterparts in Europe specifically to focus on issues like transnational organized crime and the trafficking of synthetic drugs. So it’s incredibly important that we continue to work together, exchange information, talk about best practices on the public health side, and look for – work together to look for emerging trends as we go forward.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador. Sir, may I ask would you like to introduce yourself – name, media organization, country – before you ask your question?
QUESTION: Yeah, sure. My name is Manik Mehta, and I’m a syndicated journalist. First of all, I would like to apologize for coming so late, but I was stuck in the tunnel.
QUESTION: And if you permit me, may I ask a question?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON: Absolutely.
QUESTION: Mayor Adams raised the question of fentanyl, which is flooding the U.S. market. And some of the stuff is coming from China, or much of the stuff is coming from China. Are you initiating any diplomatic moves to stop this or even introducing any security measures to stop this illicit trade?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON: Well, let me first start out by saying what I mentioned in my opening statement. We are absolutely committed to working more closely with the PRC on the issue of precursor chemicals. We know the precursor chemicals are largely being manufactured in the PRC and are being transferred to transnational criminal organizations in Mexico, where these drugs are being produced and shipped north. We are working very closely with our Mexican partners and our Canadian partners to address this issue. All three of our countries are, as you would say, awash in synthetic drugs. The Department of Justice, the DEA, FBI – we’re all working together internally and with our partners abroad to address exactly this issue.
It is devastating, it is heartbreaking what these drugs are doing to communities like here in New York City and all across the United States and up and down the North American continent. We absolutely have to be committed to addressing these issues, and we are.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador. Any other questions in the room?
QUESTION: Do you have a ranking of who makes the most pre drugs? You just mentioned that China is – does most of it, right, I mean makes most. And who else?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON: Well, we would say —
MODERATOR: Which other —
QUESTION: — China supplies upwards to 90, 95 percent of the precursor chemicals. But you have to remember, it’s a complicated story because many of these precursor chemicals are dual use. So they’re actually chemicals that can be used in things like cleaning solutions. So it’s really important that we – again, we’re not blaming anyone, but we want everyone to be on board in joining the coalition and helping us address just those issues.
MODERATOR: Ambassador, thank you so much. With respect for your time, do you have any final remarks, and would you like to talk about the next steps of the global coalition?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON: Sure. So we will be drafting a resolution for the General Assembly to consider in this session. We will – as I mentioned earlier, our subgroups will be meeting between now and March 2024. March of 2024 is an important, important time. That will be the next meeting of the CND, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. It will be a review year, so we will be considering global narcotics – the global narcotics framework and how to address the trafficking and monitoring of narcotic drugs for the next five years. So we expect a high-level attendance in March of 2024.
And then again, we intend to look – relook at this issue again at the next General Assembly in September of 2024. During that time, we believe countries will be working on different projects and programs, precisely to get after the issue of how to address synthetic drugs in all of our communities.
And I think if I had – to close, I would just reiterate that there is no one country that is going to be able to stop the flow of synthetic drugs around the world. It’s going to take a global community. Someone said yesterday it’s going to take a network to defeat a network. It’s going to take the global network to defeat the transnational organized criminal network that is really producing a challenge to all of our countries.
MODERATOR: Excellent. Well, this concludes this briefing. The transcript will be available on fpc.state.gov. Thank you, Ambassador Todd Robinson, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. Thank you to all who attended.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON: Thank you.