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Government & Politics

Portman Says the Postal Service Must Take Opioids at Least as Seriously as Counterfeit Purses

a photo of Rob Portman

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman is ratcheting up pressure on the Postal Service to help track the flow of synthetic opioids primarily from China to the U.S. 

A report released by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations last week tracked online purchases of fentanyl and carfentanil by 300 buyers in 43 states – with Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida making the most purchases.

Portman hammered on witnesses from the Postal Service and State Department, who have been resisting his push to require electronic shipping information on international parcels, saying they seem to regard it as less important than tracking counterfeit purses.

“Electronic data is really important. Again, it’s not the silver bullet. There is no one silver bullet. We’ve got to deal with the fact that our addiction rate is so high we need more treatment and recovery. We have a lot of other things to do. But if we have an attitude in the government that this doesn’t matter, we’re going to continue to get this poison coming in through our mail system, our mail system."

During the more than two-hour hearing, witnesses said the Postal Service has been ramping up tracking, but faces logistical issues private carriers like FedEx do not.

Here is a summary of the Senate committee's report from Sen. Rob Portman:

·        Fentanyl sellers in China operate openly on the internet, their preferred method of shipping is the U.S. Postal Service because the risk of seizure by Customs & Border Protection (CPB) is small and delivery is basically guaranteed, and their preferred method of payment is cryptocurrency like bitcoin. Fentanyl use and possession is illegal in the U.S. unless prescribed by a physician.

·        Online sellers in China transship purchases through other countries to reduce the risk of illegal opioids being identified and seized by customs officials.

·        The investigation linked online sellers in China to seven confirmed synthetic opioid-related deaths in the U.S. and 18 arrests for drug-related offenses. It also identified several suspected distribution networks that transship purchases into the U.S. from China. The street value of the 500 online transactions discovered by the Subcommittee in its investigation conservatively translates to around $766 million in fentanyl pills to sell on the streets of our communities.

·        The Postal Service and CBP failed to recognize and prepare for the increase in international shipments.  For more than a dozen years after 9/11, the Postal Service failed to set up a system to secure advanced electronic data (AED) that would help CBP better target illegal opioids, rather than CPB manually inspecting packages, which was inefficient and the equivalent to finding a needle in a haystack.  The Postal Service’s efforts since – starting up a pilot program at JFK Airport in 2015 – have been rife with problems, a lack of coordination between agencies, and other setbacks that have left the agency wholly unprepared to prevent the shipment of illegal synthetic opioids into the U.S. 

·        The Postal Service receives AED on only 36 percent of all international packages.  Given the international volume handled by the Postal Service, that means last year the United States received approximately 318 million international packages with no advanced data. China is capable of providing AED on its packages and currently only does so for about half of the packages it ships to the United States. The AED that the Postal Service does receive from foreign postal operators is of low quality, sometimes indecipherable, and potentially useless.