A recently passed law to address the crisis has demonstrated mixed results.
A bipartisan pair of senators is looking to hold the U.S. Postal Service more accountable for the illicit opioids that are trafficked through the mail system, calling for the agency to institute a first-of-its-kind comprehensive strategy to address the epidemic.
The U.S. Postal Service Opioid and Illicit Drug Strategy Act would give the agency three months to develop a plan and post it online. The blueprint would support USPS in “coordinating, evaluating and improving its ongoing efforts to prevent the use of mail in the distribution of illicit drugs,” with a priority on opioids, Sens. Gary Peters, D-Mich, and Mitt Romney, R-Utah, wrote in their bill.
The federal government should soon receive some assistance in its fight against opioids in the mail through “advanced electronic data,” or AED, which provide USPS and Customs and Border Protection with information about the contents of international packages before they reach the United States. A requirement for the data is already imposed on international packages coming into the country through private carriers like FedEx and UPS, but the mandate will apply across the board to international packages arriving through USPS starting in 2021 due to a measure President Trump signed into law last year.
Supporters of the measure were hopeful it would help stem the flow of illicit, synthetic opioids from foreign manufacturers through the mail system. AED gives customs officers insight into who is sending the packages and allows them to flag questionable content lists based on their knowledge of how the traffickers operate. The USPS inspector general, however, recently found the mailing agency does not always actually take action after CBP flags a shipment for additional review due to information included in its advanced electronic data. As of 2018, the Postal Service received AED on 57% of foreign packages.
USPS failed to place holds for further inspection on 12% of packages flagged by CBP in 2018. That marked an improvement over previous years—the agency missed one-third of flagged packages just two years prior—but could still hurt implementation of the 2018 Synthetic Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act, the IG said.
The new bill from Peters and Romney would require the Postal Service to create specific goals to tackle the problem, updated regularly to reflect emerging trends from traffickers. The Postal Service would have to provide annual briefings to Congress on its progress.
“We must fight the opioid crisis on all fronts, which includes stopping drug traffickers from exploiting our Postal Service to distribute deadly narcotics into our communities,” Peters said. “This commonsense bill would ensure that the Postal Service does everything it can to help address this epidemic and stay one step ahead of drug traffickers as the opioid threat continues to evolve.”
Romney said the measure would force USPS to be “proactive and accountable” in combating trafficking through the mail.
“As we work on solutions to the opioid crisis in our state and the nation, we must develop a multi-front approach that combats the illicit flow of opioids into our neighborhoods,” Romney said.
CBP is responsible for inspecting the packages at USPS’ international mail facilities, though investigations can involve Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, the Drug Enforcement Agency, USPS’ Postal Inspection Service and other federal offices. The STOP Act required the State Department to negotiate international agreements that require foreign countries to provide AED before sending packages. USPS, CBP and other agencies are collaborating to develop new technology to help customs officers better detect illicit drugs in the mail.