Loophole That Allows Fentanyl Deliveries Remains A Major Issue

By Kelly Burch 01/03/18

The STOP Act would require all packages sent to the United States to include data that will make it easier for law enforcement to track.

man delivering goods with dolly by hand.

Overdose deaths connected to fentanyl and other synthetic opioids have continued to rise, but Congress has been slow to implement legislation to close a loophole in mail security that allows up to one million packages to arrive in the United States each day unscreened. 

Under current law, most international packages must include information about the sender, destination and package contents, which can help authorities track and detect packages containing drugs. However, there are major exceptions to this rule. 

“Due to a loophole in the global postal system, packages sent via private couriers (like UPS or FedEx) are required to have the advance electronic data used by law enforcement to screen and stop dangerous material, while packages shipped via foreign postal services are not,” Alex Wolff, of the bipartisan coalition Americans for Securing All Packages, told Indiana's News and Tribune

Because of this, millions of packages come into the country “without the security data law enforcement agencies need to screen and stop dangerous packages,” Wolff added. Since fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are said to be produced in China and shipped to the United States, this international mail loophole is seen as a growing issue for Americans and the opioid crisis. 

Last February, the Synthetics Trafficking & Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act was introduced in the Senate and House of Representatives. The Senate bill was sponsored by Senators Rob Portman of Ohio, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, all of whom represent states that have been heavily impacted by the opioid epidemic. However, Congress has not acted on the bill since.

Still, Wolff said he is “optimistic that Congress will act soon,” since the bill has the support of organizations including the National Council of State Legislators, Fraternal Order of Police and the American Medical Association.

In the meantime, fentanyl and other synthetic opioids continue to arrive via mail delivery services that may not realize their role in the overdose epidemic. 

“You have the demand problem, the public health problem of making sure people cannot be addicted, but on the supply-chain issue, one of the loopholes is clearly the postal system,” said Juliette Kayyem, former assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security and lecturer on international security at the Harvard Kennedy School. “These drugs, these more lethal drugs and unlawful drugs, are being delivered here through a system that is bringing in millions of packages and letters a week.”

She said that collecting data from senders—even those who aren’t likely to be truthful—is important for law enforcement to be able to stop the flow of these drugs. 

“Meaning someone in Russia or China can put something in the mail and send it here,” she said. “They are not required, at least electronically, [to provide information] so that our intelligence and law enforcement apparatus can assess it in the 21st century… where it’s coming from, who’s sending it, what’s its size, where’s it going, what’s in the package—even if they lie about it, the lie itself becomes a means to get them.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.