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Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations Report Spotlights Glaring Security Vulnerability in American Postal System

Lack of Systematic Nationwide Program to Implement Advanced Electronic Data Provides Pipeline for Illicit Drugs and Fuels Nationwide Opioid Epidemic

Washington, D.C. – A new study released by the United States Senate Homeland Security Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) has cast new light on major security gaps in the global postal system that are regularly exploited by drug traffickers and other foreign bad actors. Of the nearly half billion packages the postal service received from foreign posts over the last year alone, over 300 million, or 64 percent, did not include this crucial data  Customs and Border Protection and other law enforcement agencies need  to target illicit and potent synthetic opioids.

While packages sent via private carriers must include accurate vital advanced electronic data (AED), packages shipped via foreign postal services do not require the same information. As a result, online drug traffickers prefer and recommend the use of the postal system for shipping synthetic opioids and other illegal drugs. The congressional investigators were able to link online sellers in China to seven opioid-related deaths in the U.S. and 18 arrests for drug-related offenses. The report further criticized the effectiveness of the limited pilot programs managed by the United States Postal Service.

Publications across the country reported on the incredible health and national security threats:

  • “For Chinese fentanyl sellers, USPS is the ‘virtually guaranteed’ route to not get caught” – STAT
  • “Chinese opioid manufacturers are exploiting weak screening at the U.S. Postal Service to ship large quantities of illegal drugs to American dealers….The sellers are taking advantage of a failure by the postal service to fully implement an electronic data system that would help authorities identify suspicious shipments.” – Associated Press
  • “Illegal shipments of the powerful and addictive opioid fentanyl are pouring into the United States by mail from China and the U.S. Postal Service must step up the use of high-tech detection methods to fight the problem, according to a congressional report unveiled on Wednesday.” – Reuters

“Once again, we’re seeing the massive harm that this postal security loophole inflicts upon the American people,” said Governor Tom Ridge, senior advisor to ASAP. “There is no excuse for allowing this vulnerability to continue. Congress must act now and pass bipartisan legislation giving our law enforcement the tools they need to keep lethal drugs out of our country and communities.”

“It’s simply unacceptable that this loophole in our postal system continues to exist years after it was recognized in the aftermath of 9/11, especially at such an astoundingly large scale” said Juliette Kayyem, senior advisor to ASAP. “Our friends, neighbors and families are suffering every day from the tragic opioid epidemic. As we work on prevention and treatment of serious addiction issues, it’s vital that our government ensures the deadliest drugs cannot enter the U.S. in the first place. Requiring advanced electronic data is an obvious step towards a comprehensive solution.”

Among the report’s recommendations, it places a priority on requiring AED on all international packages, and on proactively improving the quality of the data received by the postal service, advising Congress to pass any legislation necessary to facilitate the agencies’ efforts.

The Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP Act) would help address the issues outlined in the report by providing security agencies and law enforcement with the data needed to effectively screen the massive number of packages entering the country, and stop those containing illicit material. The STOP Act currently has 29 co-sponsors in the Senate and 252 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives, and is endorsed by those on the front lines of the opioid crisis, including the Fraternal Order of Police, the American Medical Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The report comes ahead of a HSGAC Subcommittee hearing on the same issue, entitled “Combatting the Opioid Crisis: Exploiting Vulnerabilities in International Mail,” scheduled for 10AM EST on January 25th. The full report can be found here.