Lawmakers Make a Renewed Effort to Crack Down on Traffickers Sending Opioids Through USPS
The Biden administration should stop giving countries a free pass to avoid fentanyl detection measures, bipartisan pair says.
The interagency effort to stop drug distributors from sending opioids through the mail has too many loopholes and requires additional enforcement tools, according to a bipartisan pair of senators pushing new legislation.
The Synthetics Trafficking & Overdose Prevention (STOP) 2.0 Act would build on a measure President Trump signed into law in 2018 to require foreign countries to provide "advanced electronic data" on all international packages before they reached the United States. Since its enactment, Customs and Border Protection, the State Department and the U.S. Postal Service have provided waivers to various nations that could not meet the requirements of the law in an effort to avoid widespread disruptions to the international mail system.
The new measure, introduced by Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., would sunset any such waivers within five years. The administration in office would no longer be able to issue such exemptions. It would also create a new criminal penalty for anyone mislabeling the contents of their packages to avoid STOP Act detection.
“Advanced electronic data,” or AED, 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 was already imposed on international packages coming into the country through private carriers like FedEx and UPS, but the mandate first began applying across the board to international packages arriving through USPS starting in 2021 thanks to the measure Trump signed into law in 2018.
Klobuchar said her bill would provide federal agencies with additional tools to root out illicit drug shipments.
“We’ve seen the devastating impact of the opioid epidemic on communities across the country,” Klobuchar said. “That’s why we must do everything we can to stop fentanyl and other synthetic opioids from illicitly entering the U.S. through the mail.”
Congress passed the law as the opioid epidemic was ravaging communities throughout the country and international traffickers—primarily from China—were increasingly using the U.S. Postal Service to send synthetic opioids like fentanyl to American customers. While the law is still not fully implemented, it appears to have had a dramatic impact in shifting smuggling efforts away from the mail and toward the southern border.
Compared to 2018, seizures of synthetic opioids through the mail dropped by 71% and 93% in 2019 and 2020, respectively. The law appears to be having unintended consequences as well, however. After it went into effect, about 97% of interdictions were taking place in the domestic mail stream, and officials said they were increasingly finding substances like fentanyl at the southwest border.
“It’s like a balloon,” Robert Cintron, vice president for logistics at USPS, said at a 2020 hearing. “You squeeze it in one end and it just comes out the other end.”
As of 2022, DHS told Congress just 5% of international mail was coming from countries not in compliance with the STOP Act. Still, the Homeland Security Department initially provided waivers to more than 100 countries.
“The STOP Act 2.0 builds on the passage of the STOP Act in 2018, and enhances efforts to prevent fentanyl from entering our country by international mail,” Moore Capito said. “This legislation will encourage cross-agency and international collaboration, strengthen our ability to screen incoming mail for illicit substances, and inform future efforts to end the shipping of lethal illicit substances like fentanyl.”
The new bill would require CBP to publish data on the results of randomized tests of packages entering the country. State and other agencies would be authorized to develop best practices with other nations on detecting opioids in the mail, while DHS, the Justice Department and USPS would be able to work with private sector companies to share strategies for identifying the illicit materials. Going forward, the Government Accountability Office would audit STOP Act implementation.
CBP is responsible for screenings at ports of entry and inspecting the packages at the U.S. Postal Service’s 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. USPS, CBP and other agencies have collaborated to develop new technology to help customs officers better detect illicit drugs in the mail.
DHS seized more than 11,000 pounds of fentanyl in fiscal 2021, according to agency data, more than doubling the total from the previous year and quadrupling it from fiscal 2019. It nearly doubled that total again in fiscal 2022, seizing more than 20,000 pounds.