With opioid deaths rising 29 percent during the pandemic, killing more than 55,000 Americans annually, Washington must do more to save lives. It can start by enforcing the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention Act (STOP Act) so criminal cartels are deterred from shipping illegal opioids to America via the international postal system.

Through the leadership of Ohio’s Sen. Rob Portman, the STOP ACT gained broad bipartisan support and became law in October 2018.

It requires advanced electronic data (AED), information about the shipper, contents, and other tracking information, on all packages sent through the international postal system coming into the United States. With AED, suspicious packages are more efficiently identified and seized.

The absence of AED requirements on postal shipments led Chinese criminal enterprises to advertise on the Internet that they preferred to ship drugs using the international postal system. An investigative January 2018 bipartisan Senate report documented this. AED technology is well-established. It has been required by law on private-sector shipping companies since 2002.

The STOP Act required AED on all packages from China by January 1, 2019, and all other countries by January 1, 2021. Otherwise, the packages are to be rejected and not delivered. None of this has happened and millions of packages a month without AED are still being delivered throughout America.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is the law enforcement agency that must turn this around quickly. CBP was required to issue final regulations by October 24, 2019. It did not issue interim regulations until March 15, 2021. Fortunately, the regulations are under review and can be tightened in the coming weeks.

Here are the top five things that must be fixed.

  • Packages without AED must not be accepted or delivered. At a December 10 U.S. Senate hearing, Senators clearly expected this would happen with vigor. “The law is clear. As of January 1, 2021, the Postal Service must start refusing packages without Advanced Electronic Data. According to a briefing our staff received this week, this could mean 130,000 mail pieces a day, or about 4 million every month,” said Sen. Tom Carper. Yet, the CBP regulations barely mention the non-delivery of packages without AED.
  • Spend what it takes – and charge the foreign shippers. One reason for the non-confiscation of packages is that confiscation will be expensive. CPB plans to spend just $11.3 million on this law enforcement effort when tens of millions of packages without AED continue to enter America annually. To fix this, CBP should warehouse and return all packages without AED, and charge foreign shippers $1 a package for this cost. It has the legal authority to do this.
  • Address the China question directly. Three-quarters of the approximately 500 million overseas packages that the U.S. receives annually come from China. While most Chinese packages have AED, approximately 10 percent do not. There is no reason China’s postal service, China Post, can not immediately require all AED on outbound packages to the U.S. as it has been required to do since January 1, 2019. CBP’s strictest measure should be on packages from China.
  • End exemptions for all countries. While all countries were given nearly two-and-a-half years notice to provide AED, CBP is considering waivers to more than 100 countries. Waivers should be rare, and none for more than six months. Otherwise, criminal cartels from China can easily send fentanyl and other illegal opioids to smaller countries where they will be re-packaged and sent to America.
  • Report on compliance and enforcement. There are no reporting requirements in the regulations. CBP should provide quarterly reports to Congress and the public that include the number of packages entering the U.S. with AED, the percent searched, and how often opioids and other illegal products were found.

Congress should immediately demand these common-sense changes with the same determination, bipartisan cooperation, and enthusiasm that accompanies the 2018 implementation of the STOP Act.