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In Case You Missed It: In Search of Deadly Opioids, White House Drug Czar and CBP Port Director say Advance Security Data Needed

A report by USA Today found that in the search for illicit opioids entering the U.S. through international mail, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is unable to keep up with the volume of inbound packages coming through the nation’s busiest international mail sorting facility at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. “It’s still like looking for a needle in the haystack,” the report stated. “If we get the advanced data,” said Frank Russo, the CBP port director for JFK Airport, “we’d be in a much better place.”

When Fox News went inside the JFK sorting facility that processes 60 percent of the United States’ inbound international mail, Richard Baum, acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy said, “the number one drug killing Americans is fentanyl coming through mail in lots of small packages. […] I just think we can’t stand still. The sorting problem is so huge that we need better quality data earlier.”           

Excerpts from the USA Today article are below, and the full story is here.

USA Today: An inside look at the hunt for fentanyl, the deadly opioid driving the overdose crisis
“The central battleground in America’s war on super-potent synthetic opioids is a concrete and corrugated steel mail facility at one of the country’s busiest airports. Inside the cavernous depot on the edge of New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, a team of U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers don masks and latex gloves for this dangerous work: sifting through hundreds of packages for a sliver of fentanyl, the deadly white powder at the center of a new overdose crisis.”

“The fentanyl usually comes in just a few ounces at a time — hidden inside an innocuous-looking business envelope, or a tightly taped box, or disguised as a bottle of pills. Besides their own instincts and training, the CBP officers have three tools: a creaky old X-ray machine, a borrowed handheld laser that can peek inside packages, and a sleek shepherd named Gini, one of a few canines newly trained to detect fentanyl.”

“’We’ve gotten a lot better at figuring out the threat, figuring out where it’s coming from, and identifying those packages that we need to treat as high risk,’ said Frank Russo, the port director for U.S. Customs and Border Protection at John F. Kennedy International Airport. ‘It’s mainly coming from China and Hong Kong, destined for every part of the United States.’”

“Customs officers cannot examine every one of the 1 million packages that pass through the JFK facility every day. So they use information from law enforcement and other sources to help them narrow their search. Country of origin is a key factor. Most of the fentanyl coming into the U.S. is from China, which has a robust pharmaceutical industry and thousands of underground labs manufacturing counterfeit and illicit drugs.”

“‘The mail is now a central front in the whole fight against drugs,’ said Richard Baum, the acting drug czar, told USA TODAY during a Sept. 8 visit to the facility. How much fentanyl are customs officers missing? There’s no way to tell for sure, but local police around the country are finding fentanyl everywhere — along with the drug’s overdose victims.”

“It’s still like looking for a needle in the haystack, though. So it’s no wonder if Russo and other officials say they could use more of just about everything. A new X-ray machine. More lasers (and not on temporary loan). Fresh resources to clear their backlog of suspicious packages waiting to be lab tested. And perhaps the most helpful: advanced electronic data that would allow the CBP to target suspect mail packages with a computer program, instead of manually.”

“If we get the advanced data, we’d be in a much better place,” Russo said.

Excerpts from the Fox News story are below, and the full piece is available here.

Fox News: Border agents at New York’s JFK airport on the front lines of America’s drug war

“In one of the country’s busiest airports, they spend their days scanning packages and mail to stop a flow of drugs from across the world enter the country.”

“Fentanyl, one of the deadliest opioids, arrives in large numbers in concealed packages coming primarily from Hong Kong.”

“One of the biggest legal hurdles is the lack of tracking information from international senders, which is still not a requirement. While legislation demanding more data has been introduced, Baum and the CBP continue to work with their peers overseas to find those trying to cheat the system.”

“I just think we can’t stand still,’ Baum said. ‘The sorting problem is so huge that we need better quality data earlier.’”