By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Justice said on Tuesday it has indicted two major Chinese drug traffickers on charges of making and selling highly addictive fentanyl to Americans over the internet.
Xiaobing Yan, 40, and Jian Zhang, 38, were charged with conspiring to distribute large quantities of fentanyl and fentanyl analogues into the United States, the Justice Department said. They were charged in separate indictments unsealed on Monday in Mississippi and North Dakota.
"For the first time, we have indicted major Chinese fentanyl traffickers who have been using the Internet to sell fentanyl and fentanyl analogues to drug traffickers and individual customers in the United States," Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a statement.
An analogue is a drug that is chemically similar in makeup to another.
Earlier Tuesday President Donald Trump said his drug czar nominee, Republican U.S. Representative Tom Marino, had withdrawn his name from consideration.
Marino was cited in a joint Washington Post-CBS "60 Minutes" report on Sunday as spearheading legislation to neuter the Drug Enforcement Administration's power to crack down on opioid manufacturers who were flooding the market with the addictive painkillers.
The United States is dealing with a major epidemic of opioid overdoses. In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control estimated that 20,000 Americans were killed by fentanyl, a highly addictive synthetic painkiller.
The two Chinese individuals were charged with conspiring to distribute large quantities of fentanyl and fentanyl analogues into the United States, the department said.
Five Canadians, two residents of Florida and a resident of New Jersey were also indicted in the alleged drug conspiracy involving Zhang, the department said.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jeffrey Benkoe)