Column: Get drugs out of the mail

Tom Ridge

Last month, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a successful takedown of drug traffickers in Operation Saigon Sunset, dismantling a major criminal network responsible for trafficking drugs from Detroit to Huntington, West Virginia. The investigation was massive, seizing enough fentanyl to kill a quarter-million people.

Every American should be grateful for the brave law enforcement agents who took these drugs off our streets, but they should be troubled that toxic synthetic opioids like fentanyl are able to enter Michigan so regularly and easily in the first place. A security gap in the global postal service enables much of this deadly trade, and is helping fuel the opioid epidemic in Michigan and across the country.

Fentanyl, carfentanil and other potent synthetic opioids are commonly manufactured abroad before being shipped into the United States and mixed, sometimes unknowingly, into the drug supply. National security and law enforcement agencies like Customs and Border Protection use basic security information — advance electronic data, or AED — to screen for dangerous material and stop illegal drugs at ports of entry. While AED is required on all foreign packages delivered by private carriers, it is not mandated for packages sent via the global postal network and delivered by the U.S. Postal Service. This has left international drug traffickers with easy access to reach American markets.

A bipartisan report from the United States Senate Homeland Security Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) found that only 36 percent of foreign packages delivered by the USPS include AED, and that the limited data provided is too low quality to be useful.

Current law does not provide CBP with the authority needed to acquire high-quality data from foreign countries, leaving screening measures inadequate for handling the massive amounts of packages arriving in the U.S. — 1.36 million unscreened and potentially dangerous packages enter the country every day. As a result, PSI investigators found that online drug traffickers prefer and recommend the use of the postal system for shipping illegal drugs into the country — the same drugs that are devastating Michigan communities.

But the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act would close the postal security gap by requiring AED on all foreign packages sent into the U.S., including those delivered by the postal service. It’s long past time for this bill to be passed and sent to President Trump’s desk.

Alarmingly, behind the scenes congressional procedures are now threatening to gut the most important provisions of the STOP Act, leaving it toothless against stopping foreign drug traffickers and cutting off the flow of foreign opioids.

As currently written, the STOP ACT empowers CBP with the enforcement authority needed to get information from foreign countries on shipments to the United States. This provision is a keystone of the bill — without it, our government will once again leave law enforcement without the tools they need to do their job. The STOP Act is before the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade, and will hopefully move swiftly through the committee to receive a full floor vote. Congress is currently considering a package of bills aimed at stemming the opioid epidemic. With the crisis showing no signs of slowing down, it is imperative that Congress capitalizes on this opportunity to ensure that the bills being considered will make a meaningful impact.

Fortunately, Michigan U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop is at the helm of this process. He and his colleagues recognize the importance of foreign drug interdiction, and are working to make the STOP Act effective and enforceable so it can save lives.

Tom Ridge was the first U.S. secretary of Homeland Security, and is a senior adviser to Americans for Securing All Packages.