It’s been said the opioid epidemic does not discriminate. Its impact is felt in all communities — rural or urban, big or small, wealthy or poor. As was noted at a recent Senate hearing, nearly every American has been touched in some way by this crisis.

Policymakers are looking to attack the problem from all sides: greater access to treatment; increased funding for municipalities and their first responders; updated training for doctors in prescribing opioids; tougher penalties for drug dealers; and cooperation from pharmaceutical companies.

Recent attention has focused on shoring up weaknesses in the international mail system, which is increasingly being used to move synthetic opioids like fentanyl from producers in China to U.S. buyers. At a recent hearing, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released a report that found that synthetic opioids purchased online — easily, as it turns out — tend to be shipped to the United States through the Express Mail Service, rather than through private couriers.

Lawmakers believe a key tool for reducing vulnerabilities would be for the U.S. Postal Service to collect advance electronic data (AED) from foreign posts on all inbound packages. AED includes information on who sent the package, where it’s going, and what’s inside. Last year, the Postal Service collected advance data on only about 36 percent of packages sent to the United States. Under a 2002 law, express consignment operators (DHL, FedEx, UPS) collect AED on all packages. Of course, these operators control the package from entry to destination while mailed international packages start with a foreign post and are handed off to USPS.

The Postal Service faces a number of challenges in dealing with illicit narcotics in the mail, Acting Deputy Inspector General William Siemer said in recent testimony. First, the Postal Service handles about four times as much international package volume as the three major express operators combined. USPS gets uneven cooperation from foreign posts, which are not obligated to send advance data. Yet, the Postal Service is required to take and deliver all packages as part of its universal service obligation. And the Postal Service has a legal requirement that it obtain a warrant before inspecting the contents of suspect parcels.

Share your thoughts. What ways can we band together to fight against illicit narcotics? 

Comments (5)

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  • anon

    Honestly, with the most unreliable service in the world, this is probably not a real issue as none of the packages will get delivered anyhow. And if so, to the wrong address and years later.

    Feb 12, 2018
  • anon

    (1) More active participation by USPS to place managers in key positions with the UPU’s various boards and committees. (2) Bilateral agreements should contain the requirement for reciprocal AED. At the very least, all Kahala Posts Group members should include AED as part of the Pay-For-Performance criteria. (China Post, for example, is a KPG member). The total inbound mail volume from KPG countries is a lot more than 36%. (3) The opioids crisis has reached epidemic proportions. Dedicate more postal employees, customs personnel and postal inspectors to screening incoming parcels. However, opening mail for inspection should only be done by CBP agents and not postal personnel. (4) Cooperate directly with postal foreign administrations and governments to shut down major opioids shippers. (5) Start lobbying and prepare for the next UPU Congress to make AED transmission a major objective with a specific target date. The UPU operational budget should allocate funds to assist those countries which may not have the financial or technical ability to implement electronic data interchange. (6) Immediately identify and address operational errors at the ISCs where mail is not properly tendered for customs’ inspection. Critical scanning errors should trigger an alert (in-real-time) directly to the In-Plant Support office requiring immediate action. (7) Customs should also share their own item-level data and open it for integration with the USPS intranet tracking. USPS Tracking & Reporting can provide additional customs specific information, such as the amount of duties and fees to be collected for example, or - better status descriptions for items that are retained, seized or destroyed. Data sharing should be a two-way street between USPS and CBP.

    Feb 08, 2018
  • anon

    I don't mean to sound completely unsympathetic to this issue but this becomes everyone else's problem because we have a bunch of idiots in our country who are hooked on drugs? Normal people who do not have a drug issue / will never have a drug issue and do not associate with people like that can't even get things like their their wedding rings shipped into the USA from overseas because of these idiots? Seriously, people with drug issues should just be deported...enough of this crap...

    Feb 06, 2018
  • anon

    Wow... You're sadly uninformed. Many people who have been legitimately prescribed opioids have become addicted and it has ruined their lives as well as those around them. These people may have been involved in a serious car accident or other mishap and were prescribed these for pain management. These sons and daughters likely believed that they would never get caught-up in drug addiction either but did through no fault of their own. These people come from all socio-economic classes. You're very fortunate to have not had someone you care about be ripped apart by this form of addiction.

    Feb 13, 2018
  • anon

    In Germany all suspiciously looking mail items are being x-rayed!

    Feb 05, 2018