The U.S. Senate has an opportunity to enact a common sense, bipartisan measure that will cut the supply of deadly opioids entering America. And it should do so before it embroils itself over the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh.
For years, law enforcement agencies, public health officials and others have warned that large amounts of Chinese opioids are flooding into the country via international mail delivered by the U.S. Postal Service. The Fraternal Order of Police, the Homeland Security Department and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration are among those making clarion calls.
In 2016, the latest year for available statistics, more than 42,000 dies of opioids. This is 116 people a day and a 27 percent increase from 33,000 in 2015. Experts predict the figures will continue to rise.
Fentanyl, the core component in opioids, is powerful and compact. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration it is at least 50 times more potent that morphine and used in a wide range of synthetic opioids. Just two milligrams of fentanyl will kill most people.
A January bipartisan report by the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Committee on Investigations found that the Postal Service is the preferred method of shipping by overseas drug dealers. This is because the risk of seizure by Customs & Border Protection is small and delivery basically guaranteed.
We already have a solution for this problem. It is to require advanced electronic data (AED) on all in-bound international mail. AED information includes sender, declared contents and destination. With AED and advanced data analytics, law enforcement can locate better which mail to search for drugs. More fentanyl would be confiscated quicker.
Private carriers have used AED technology for 15 years on international shipments. It is also expected to be standard on all incoming mail from developed nations in a few years.
The STOP Act would require AED on all inbound mail from China by the end of this year. This is critical because China is the hub for illicit opioid and fentanyl production.
On June 14, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill 353-52, just two days after the Trump administration gave its unequivocal support.
Introduced by Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio), the STOP Act already has 34 Senate co-sponsors from Elizabeth Warren and Tim Kaine to Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer should join in co-sponsorship and push for a vote as soon as possible. McConnell’s home state of Kentucky has one of the top 10 rates of opioid abuse in the country. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that Kentucky’s death rate from opioids is twice the national average.
Schumer has often spoken in New York about the need to address the crisis. In a January 10 press release he said, “It can’t be said enough: the opioid crisis in Upstate New York and every corner of our country is a national emergency, that has taken the lives of far too many Americans. The situation is urgent and it requires an urgent and substantial response from Congress.”
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that New York’s death rate from opioids is 13 percent above the national average. New York deaths from synthetic opioids also increased 10-fold from 2012 to 2016.
By expediting the STOP Act, the Senate also sends a clear message to the Postal Service to get its AED inspection regimen ready quickly.
Unfortunately, the Postal Service wants to have it both ways. It says it is troubled by the opioids epidemic and it recognizes and wants to use AED but it does not want AED to be required. For drug lords the end around is simple: Send mail without AED.
As of March, AED was used on 40 percent of inbound Postal Service packages. The need to rapidly expand the program is clear and in the nation’s interest. Though challenging, it is doable.
Given the national emergency on opioids, the Postal Service should get on board and serve the public by supporting and preparing for the STOP Act.
The Senate can do its part by passing act soon and ideally before the August recess.