Surge in Crypto Payments to Chinese Precursor Manufacturers Reaches 600% in 2023

Surge in Crypto Payments to Chinese Precursor Manufacturers Reaches 600% in 2023

Cryptocurrency transactions with Chinese precursor drug manufacturers have surged significantly, with the total amount deposited in 2023 soaring sixfold compared to the previous year. This trend, highlighted in a recent report by blockchain intelligence firm TRM Labs, underscores the growing preference for cryptocurrency as a payment method in the illicit drug trade.

Significant Increase in Crypto Deposits

According to TRM Labs, which is backed by major financial institutions including JPMorgan Chase, Visa, Citi, and PayPal, Chinese drug precursor manufacturers received over $26 million in cryptocurrencies in 2023. Approximately 60% of these payments were made in Bitcoin. The report indicates that the first four months of 2024 saw more than double the deposits compared to the same period in 2023.

Concentration of Payments

The report further reveals that 11 precursor manufacturers accounted for over 70% of all crypto-denominated sales in this sector. These payments predominantly originated from unhosted wallets, cryptocurrency exchanges, and various payment services, while the manufacturers’ wallets were typically hosted on exchanges.

Blockchain Preferences and Other Payment Methods

Bitcoin was the preferred blockchain for these transactions, representing around 60% of the total volume, followed by the TRON blockchain at 30%, and Ethereum at about 6%. Despite the surge in cryptocurrency payments, these manufacturers also continue to accept fiat currencies via PayPal, MoneyGram, Western Union, and traditional bank transfers.

Target Markets and Impact

Chinese drug precursor manufacturers primarily ship their products to countries such as Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, Germany, and the United States. There are also targeted advertisements for mephedrone precursors directed at Russia and neighboring countries.

In April, a U.S. congressional committee reported that China subsidizes the production of illicit fentanyl precursors, exacerbating the opioid crisis in the United States. The committee’s findings indicated that China offers value-added tax rebates to companies producing fentanyl analogs, precursors, and other synthetic narcotics, provided these products are sold outside of China.

Broader Implications

As noted by another blockchain intelligence firm, Elliptic, fentanyl has become a preferred substance for drug cartels due to its lower production cost compared to heroin and its extreme potency—50 times stronger than heroin. This potency has made fentanyl a leading cause of death among Americans aged 18-45.


The dramatic rise in cryptocurrency payments to Chinese precursor manufacturers highlights the increasingly sophisticated methods being employed in the global drug trade. This shift poses significant challenges for regulators and law enforcement agencies as they attempt to combat the illicit drug market and its devastating impact on public health.

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