During a roundtable on rising opioid addiction and death rates in Manchester Wednesday, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley took a hardline stance against China regarding fentanyl in the United States.

“We have to kick this where it starts. And that means you go to China and say, ‘We will end all normal trade relations with you until you stop killing Americans.’ We have to be that firm, we have to be that tough,” said Haley, who is seeking the GOP presidential nomination.

And she told WMUR-TV she would also include direct military action against the cartels in Mexico.

“You do that by having your special operations go and eliminate those cartels,” Haley said. “We have to get our military on the ground and treat those cartels like the terrorists that they are.”

Talking with faith-based and community leaders, including former state Rep. Victoria Sullivan and former Speaker Pro Tempore of the state House Kimberly Rice, Haley asked about the attendees’ efforts to combat addiction in New Hampshire while also discussing her own personal experiences with the issue.

“My niece, when she was 16, had to have back surgery. She had been given some sort of heavy medication,” Haley recalled. “We spent the next 12 to 13 years, longer than that, watching her go from addiction to worse addiction to worse addiction to worse addiction. And we literally waited any day to get that call that she had died. By the grace of God, she is now clean.”

And, Haley added, many Granite Staters have had similar experiences.

“I look at New Hampshire; it’s really been ground zero for addictions for a long time.”

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks to Nathaniel Caesar, who is in recovery at a nonprofit in Manchester, N.H.

The number of opioid overdose deaths peaked in the state in 2017 (at 490) before declining slightly in the following two years. But now the bad news is inching back up, hitting 486 drug overdose deaths in 2022, according to the state’s chief medical examiner’s office. That was an 11 percent jump from 2021, while the nation as a whole experienced a 0.5 percent increase.

Fentanyl was involved in more than 80 percent of those deaths last year.

Manchester and Nashua are bearing the brunt of the crisis. The latter saw a 16 percent spike in opioid-related deaths in May 2023, while Manchester hovered around last year’s record-breaking numbers, according to American Medical Response (AMR).

A synthetic opioid that can be 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, fentanyl is the driving force behind the state’s opioid epidemic. And Haley didn’t mince words when condemning China for supplying the fentanyl that’s been pouring into the United States. “I will make sure as president, I will make sure as a candidate, everybody needs to know how dangerous China is.”

While China placed fentanyl under a controlled regulatory regime in 2019, it has done little to hinder the flow of the deadly narcotic. The country is still the primary source of fentanyl in the United States.

“Y’all are trying to fix what’s on the ground, we gotta fix it from where it’s coming from in the first place,” Haley noted.

According to the Brookings Institute, “Instead of finished fentanyl being shipped directly to the United States, most smuggling now occurs via Mexico. Mexican criminal groups source fentanyl, fentanyl precursors, and increasingly pre-precursors from China, and then traffic finished fentanyl from Mexico to the United States.”

Chinese actors, especially those in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, play an important role in supporting Mexican distributors by both laundering money and violating regulations to source their operations.

“Don’t think for a second China doesn’t know what they’re doing when they send it over,” Haley told the roundtable. “That’s the issue. And what we saw was [Secretary of State Antony] Blinken went there and basically said, ‘We’re going to start having talks about fentanyl.’ There’s nothing to talk about. Let’s be clear, we know who the culprit is. We know exactly what they’re doing, we know exactly why they’re doing it, we just need to act on that.”

Haley’s comments come about a month after the U.S. Justice Department arrested eight executives and employees and charged four China-based chemical manufacturing companies “with crimes related to fentanyl production, distribution, and sales resulting from precursor chemicals” – the first such charges against China-based companies and nationals for fentanyl-related crimes.

Meanwhile, the problem has been intensifying at the U.S.-Mexico border. So far this year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has seized 21,846 pounds of fentanyl at the border – nearly 8,000 pounds more than it seized all of last year (14,104 pounds).

“We had enough fentanyl cross the border last year that would kill every single American,” Haley said. “The number one cause of death of adults 18 to 49: fentanyl.”

Ironically, Haley made her comments the same day Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was testifying before the House Judiciary Committee. He told the committee the Biden policy at the border “is working,” a claim most Americans reject. A poll released in June found just 33 percent of Americans approve of the job President Joe Biden is doing controlling the borders, his lowest number ever.

Fentanyl is extremely lethal, even in small doses. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, just one kilogram is potent enough to kill 500,000 people. But while Haley is focused on dealing with China and the supply side of the issue on a national level, she also stressed the importance of local control in combating addiction.

“I think that a lot of what needs to happen at the national level is, rather than D.C. holding all this money and putting all these programs out, they need to pass it down to the states and reduce the size of government, and let the states handle it.”

Haley continued, “Your addiction issues in New Hampshire are different than the addiction issues in South Carolina, which are different than every other state. You know best how to handle it. Places like this are exactly the way you do it.”

Highlighting the interconnectedness between addiction at home and confronting China abroad, Haley added, “Addiction needs to be front of mind for every American….And how we’re going to deal with China needs to be top of mind.”