Ben Westhoff is a journalist whose new book, Fentanyl Inc, is a portrait of the massive Chinese synthetic-drug industry. Westhoff got access to these labs, which he was only able to do by posing as a potential buyer. We found the book and his (perhaps extremely reckless) efforts to report it fascinating, so asked him to retell how he did it.
In early 2017, when I began investigating China’s role in the opioid crisis, fentanyl had begun killing more Americans annually than any drug in history, and synthetic cannabinoids like K2 were displacing marijuana and causing massive overdose outbreaks.
To really understand the epidemic, I needed to go to China, but I didn’t speak Chinese. Other journalists said I needed a “fixer,” but I didn’t know where to find one. “My college roommate lived in Shanghai for