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?