Smugglers Continue To Use Post Office To Deliver Drugs

By Kelly Burch 07/10/17

Without a sufficient system or drug-sniffing dogs, customs officials are unable to curb the tide of drugs being mailed into the country.

Woman accepting a delivery of boxes from deliveryman

Parents used to worry about alcohol snuck around in a water bottle, or pot tucked into the glove compartment of a car. Now, however, parents must deal with a much bigger—and harder to spot—problem regarding young adults and drugs. 

Don Holman’s son, Garret, died of an overdose in February. After his death, Don learned that the 20-year-old had drugs delivered right to his doorstep via the postal service.

“Your drug dealer today is your mailman,” Holman told The Wall Street Journal. “If your kids are getting any packages in the mail whatsoever, you need to know what that is.”


It’s not just concerned parents who have noticed the trend. Federal agencies and lawmakers know that illicit drugs—particularly synthetic opioids—are streaming into the country via the mail service. “It comes from our postal system and their postal system into the United States. Unbelievable—the poison is coming in the mail to our communities,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said in a floor speech last year. Portman has sponsored legislation that would gather more information on packages shipped internationally. 

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data shows that seizures of fentanyl arriving by mail reached nearly 37 kilograms in the U.S. overall in 2016, compared with 0.09 kilogram five years earlier. 

Mail and private express services are “attractive options for smugglers,” Salvatore Ingrassia, acting assistant director for trade and cargo at CBP’s New York field office, told The Wall Street Journal. He said there has been a “significant increase” in synthetic opioids arriving in packages.

Despite the concern and the known threat, there is little that officials can do to stop the tide of drugs transported via the postal service. Customs officials use x-rays and visual scans to try to detect contraband, but it makes barely a dent with 621.4 million international packages arriving through the U.S. Postal Service alone in 2016.

“This manual process...coupled with the tremendous volume of inbound mail to the United States, creates a daunting task for CBP,” said Robert Perez, the agency’s acting executive assistant commissioner for operations support, at a May Senate hearing on opioid mail shipments.

In addition, synthetic opioids are so dangerous that drug-sniffing dogs have not been trained to detect them because they could kill the animal. 

Although senders are required to provide information to ship packages into the U.S., it is easy to falsify that, officials said. Express carriers like UPS and FedEx are battling the same issues as the Postal Service. 

“Though the express carriers typically require additional data to ship parcels, it is still rather difficult for these carriers and law enforcement to detect and intercept opioids,” officials at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) wrote in a letter to the House Energy and Commerce Committee in March.

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