One of the most frustrating aspects of the opioid epidemic for law enforcement and others is that small quantities of drugs 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin easily can be mailed into the United States from China.
Dealers and users can make purchases over the Internet that are delivered by the U.S. Postal Service.
In announcing a national public health emergency on drug abuse, President Donald Trump threw down the gauntlet by saying, “And in two weeks, I will be in China with President Xi, and I will mention this as a top priority. And he will do something about it.”
The president will be in China through Friday. Congress and the Postal Service should have his back. With drug overdose deaths skyrocketing to 64,000 in 2016, an increase of more than 11,500 deaths, or a 17 percent increase from 2015, this is no time for petty politics or partisanship.
The problem of drug inflows from China has been well documented for years. In February, the congressionally chartered U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission reported, “Chemical flows from China helped fuel a fentanyl crisis in the United States, with significant increases in U.S. opioid overdoses, deaths and addiction rates reoccurring over the last several years.”
An important way to curtail opioid inflows is to require that all shipments from China through the U.S. Postal Service be preceded with basic electronic data, including who and where it is from, who it is going to and what is in it, before it crosses the U.S. border.
John Kelly, as head of the Department of Homeland Security, testified this information would be helpful for interdiction efforts.
In Congress, a bipartisan measure, the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Protection Act, a.k.a. The STOP Act, would tighten scrutiny on drugs in international mail shipments by requiring seven electronic data information points on international mail.
Introduced in the Senate by Republican Rob Portman and Democrat Amy Klobuchar, the measure is now co-sponsored by a bipartisan and diverse group of senators, including Marco Rubio, Elizabeth Warren and Tim Kaine. Companion legislation in the U.S. House has 242 co-sponsors.
Among those strongly supporting The STOP Act is the 330,000-member Fraternal Order of Police. In a Feb. 27 letter to Sen. Portman, the organization’s president, Chuck Canterbury said, “Unlike packages entering the U.S. through private carriers — such as UPS or FedEx — U.S. Customs and Border Protection does not receive advance electronic customs data for the clear majority of foreign mail entering the United States Postal Service.”
Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge also is very concerned about the dangers to first responders from these highly potent drugs, which are harmful just to be around.
“We won’t stop reading headlines of tragic fentanyl deaths or of local first responders harmed by these drugs until we take action to keep synthetic opioids out of our country in the first place,” Ridge said in October.
The Postal Service has been opposed to The STOP Act primarily for reasons of costs. At the same time, though, it has been touting its own expanded use of Advanced Electronic Data and urging China to do more in this regard.
Time is not a luxury that America has in fighting the opioid epidemic. Beyond the 11,500 additional deaths in 2016, there are more sobering statistics. In September, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that, “Among the more than 64,000 drug overdose deaths estimated in 2016, the sharpest increase occurred among deaths related to fentanyl and fentanyl analogs.”
Fixing the mail loophole is an important and sensible place to start.