Imagine if terrorists were launching attacks that were taking the lives of 115 Americans daily and corroding the fabric of our society. Congress, as it has done historically, would probably drop partisan rancor to adopt practical, common-sense solutions that are clearly in the nation’s best interest.
A similar assault is under way and a similar response needed. Large quantities of opioids are flooding into the U.S. via international mail from China, where most of this poison is made. As a riveting Jan. 24 bipartisan report from the Senate documented, odds are high that opioids manufactured and marketed by sophisticated Chinese criminal enterprises will make it through international mail and be delivered by the U.S. Postal Service.
Even before the most recent Senate report, these issues have been well known. In February 2017, the congressionally chartered U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission reported, “Chemical flows from China have 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.”
In December, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that opioids killed 42,000 Americans in 2016, equivalent to 115 each day. The 2017 figures are expected to be significantly higher.
The Jan. 24 report from the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations outlined how fentanyl can be readily purchased online via Google and digital currency. It says, “Their sales pitches made it sound easy to purchase fentanyl, and each preferred to ship any purchases to the United States through the international arm of the Postal Service.”
It is very difficult to track and identify these items because only 36 percent of international mail packages entering the U.S. have advanced electronic data (AED), that is electronic information about the shipper, content, delivery point and other data points. With AED and advanced analytics, law enforcement is much better able to identify likely suspicious packages and intercept them.
Under the current voluntary system, the percent of international mail packages with AED has been holding steady. However, the overall volume of inbound international mail increased by 232 percent from 2013-2017, according to the Senate report. More than 300 million international mail packages enter the U.S. annually, with no AED.
AED is already required of private shippers sending international packages from China to the U.S. And, it is a known technology that can be implemented relatively quickly.
Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) have persistently led the push to stop opioids in the mail and require AED on all in-bound packages via the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Act (STOP Act).
The STOP Act already has large and growing bipartisan support in Congress. The House measure has 252 co-sponsors, including 89 Democrats. In the Senate, the 29 co-sponsors include Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.).
During the 2016 campaign, President Trump forcefully called for ending international mail drug shipments. His own drug commission endorses the STOP Act as does the Fraternal Order of Police and many law enforcement agencies.
As Homeland Security Secretary, John Kelly testified in April that AED would help in fighting drug trafficking. In November, incoming Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen testified in support of the STOP Act because of the interdiction benefits it would provide.
Opponents of the STOP Act, while usually acknowledging the measure’s laudable goals, will claim that it will mean delays in inbound mail.
Americans have shown that they can patiently accept delays at airport screenings. Waiting an extra few days for a pair of sunglasses or other items ordered from China is a reasonable inconvenience if it means saving lives.
Opponents also often state that current enforcement efforts are underfunded, and more money should be designated there. While more funding is probably also necessary, the bigger point is that the lack of AED results in far less efficient use of law enforcement time and resources, as the experts in the field lack the tools to better pinpoint and ultimately seize opioids.
The time has come for Congress to adopt a common-sense solution that will curtail the availability of opioids in every state in the union. Enacting the STOP Act will save lives, empower law enforcement and be a step in restoring respect for Congress.