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Congress to Put a Stop on Fentanyl in the Mail
By Bruce Moyer
NAPS Legislative Counsel
Congress is placing the final touches on a major legislative package in response to the nation’s opioid crisis. The package includes new rules requiring the Postal Service to be more rigorous in collecting electronic information on packages potentially containing fentanyl and other drugs arriving in this country.
The advance electronic data (AED) secured by the Postal Service would permit customs inspectors to better screen parcels for deadly fentanyl and other contraband that are the sources of much of the illegal opioids pouring into the country.
The 660-page bipartisan congressional bill—the “Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act” (H.R. 6)—combines more than a dozen proposals aimed at opioid use disorder prevention, recovery and treatment. Included is the STOP Act, a bill promoted by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), that would require the Postal Service to provide Customs and Border Protection (CBP) with advance electronic notifications for international mail shipments. CBP regularly uses the data—such as sender and recipient names and a description of package contents—to identify suspicious shipments, including fentanyl.
Portman’s vigilance in promoting the STOP Act has been driven by the disastrous rise in overdose deaths in his home state of Ohio and their link to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid easily ordered online from abroad. The ease of buying fentanyl, which frequently is laced into heroin or fake pain pills, has caused it to replace prescription opioids as the leading killer in drug overdoses.
Doctors report that even a few milligrams of fentanyl can be fatal. USA Today recently reported that “buying illicit fentanyl—a drug that is killing people in the United States at the rate of 80 a day—is as easy as ordering a book online.”
USPS Now Must Comply
While other international commercial carriers such as FedEx, United Parcel Service and DHL already are required to provide advance information about the contents of shipments they carry, the Postal Service, until now, has not been required to do so. Indeed, the agency has been slow in voluntarily securing the data for CBP. This situation has permitted significant amounts of deadly fentanyl to come into the country through the Postal Service.
“We are being overrun with fentanyl,” Sen. Portman has said. “It is 50 times more powerful than heroin. It is very inexpensive. It is coming primarily from China and coming primarily through our U.S. Postal Service, if you can believe it.
The Trump White House also has supported more rigorous, advance information-collection by the Postal Service of international mail coming into the country—particularly from China. “It is outrageous that Poisonous Synthetic Heroin Fentanyl comes pouring into the U.S. Postal System from China,” President Trump wrote in an Aug. 20 tweet. “We can, and must, END THIS NOW! The Senate should pass the STOP ACT — and firmly STOP this poison from killing our children and destroying our country.”
Under the legislation awaiting final congressional approval, the Postal Service would be required to provide AED notifications for 70 percent of shipments—and all shipments from China—by the end of 2018, and 100 percent of shipments by the end of 2020. Additionally, the Postal Service would have to refuse shipments from some nations beginning in 2021 if it can’t secure necessary notification.
The State Department also would have to negotiate new international postal agreements with other nations to secure compliance. Whether the USPS and the State Department will be able to meet these targets as thoroughly and rapidly as the law would require remains to be seen.
Major USPS Concerns Addressed
As the STOP Act moved through Congress, the Postal Service raised concerns over the compliance costs of the legislation. That ultimately caused Congress to allow the agency to charge foreign shippers and operators fees sufficient to recover its compliance costs.
The measure also would set a new customs fee, starting at $1 per item in 2020, for inbound international packages sent through Express Mail Service, an international service created by the Universal Postal Union and used by online merchandisers.
Another provision opposed by the Postal Service—costly civil fines against the USPS when it accepts international shipments not in compliance with the law—remains in the legislation. The legislation does, however, provide safeguards against the fines, including Postal Service maintenance of a “low error rate” and proof of its continued cooperation with Customs and Border Patrol.
Overall, congressional action to combat the opioid epidemic clearly is overdue. More than 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses last year, including prescription opioids and illicit drugs—more deaths than attributed to either traffic accidents or firearms.