Our nation’s drug abuse problem is also a postal service problem

With each passing day, news coverage is filled with reports about the unfortunate toll that many forms of drug abuse are having on our communities. The recent rise of the heroin epidemic is just the latest in a long string of vicious cycles of drug abuse claiming thousands of lives each and every year.

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To aid the efforts made to halt the in-flow, transport and ultimately the use of such drugs, the Senate Government Oversight and Homeland Security Committee convened last week for a roundtable discussion titled, “Preventing Drug Trafficking through International Mail.”

Along with many pertinent questions posed by Senators Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonKavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow House panel advances DHS cyber vulnerabilities bills MORE (R-WI), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanGraham calls handling of Kavanaugh allegations 'a drive-by shooting' Overnight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens Bipartisan group wants to lift Medicaid restriction on substance abuse treatment MORE (R-OH), Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperTrump Jr. to Dem Senator: 'You admitted to hitting your wife so hard it gave her a black eye!' Melania Trump's spokeswoman gets Hatch Act warning for #MAGA tweet EPA to abandon restrictions against chemical linked to climate change MORE (D-DE), and Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterMontana lawmakers cheer recommendation to ban mining north of Yellowstone Cook Political Report moves Texas Senate race to ‘toss-up’ Trump Jr. campaign event looks for new venue after Montana restaurant declines to host MORE (D-MT), Sen. Heidi Heitkemp (D-ND), asked directly about the nature of the collaboration among our federal agencies and the U.S. Postal Service.

“How do we improve that relationship? How do we staff these Postal inspectors with drug dogs with whatever we can to make sure that the Postal Office is not the delivery device for poison that basically resulted in deaths in my state and deaths in others states?,” she questioned.

Recent studies have also looked into this problem. An analysis by Lexington Institute highlighted how a large amount of synthetic drugs produced in China, are being shipped through its postal service, and then handed off to the US Postal Service for delivery inside the US. This continues to happen unbeknownst to the USPS, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and a number of other federal agencies who have responsibilities to curtail the flow of drug-laden packages.

LegitScript, a group that works to make the internet pharmacy and health product sector safer and more transparent, found in a recent study that the USPS is the “carrier of choice for illegal online pharmacies.” Out of 29 test purchases from illegal online pharmacies, all 29 packages reached their intended destinations through the USPS. Not one package was detected and flagged by the Postal Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, Customs and Border Protection, or any other agency responsible.

To help prevent this from happening, private express carriers submit advance electronic security data through the Air Cargo Advance Screening (ACAS) system. 47 US agencies, including CBP, depend on this data to perform a variety of enforcement duties; however the US Postal Service does not have this same obligation.

If it is so easy to transport illegal drugs into the United States, could we also be in danger of having weapons, anthrax, or dirty bombs moving through the mail with similar ease? In light of the recent findings and what we know about the system, this is a significant security concern.

As can be expected, this week’s roundtable discussion did not produce any clear solutions. A few of the shortcomings were pinned on the reality that the USPS relies on paper tracking of documents produced in myriad forms by foreign postal services instead of consistent electronic data sets. As well, CBP is 2,000 officers short of full enforcement capacity, and mail volume continues to grow.

While the USPS faces these inadequacies, private express shippers are required to know what products they are carrying and have a near universal rate of compliance. According to the Coalition of Services Industries, private express shippers’ ability to submit specified data translated to a 98% success rate of shipments that were properly declared with Customs and Border Protection. Conversely, the USPS collected $0, which is estimated to be a $1.06 billion loss of public income for the US Treasury. 

These oversights are inexcusable.

The US Postal Service often gloats about how they do not depend on the federal government for funding. With an $18 billion dependence on the federal government for subsidies through below market interest rates, a $15 billion credit line with the US Treasury, exemptions from state, local property, and real estate taxes, and a monopoly on mailbox use, this claim has little foundation in truth. The USPS should be held to a higher standard than their private shipping competitors, at a minimum.

Today, there are many conversations about what fixing the US Postal Service looks like. Undoubtedly, the future of the agency ought to include a serious effort to root out the presence of drugs and other hazardous materials in our mail system.


George Landrith is the President and CEO of Frontiers of Freedom – a public policy think tank devoted to promoting a strong national defense, free markets, individual liberty, and constitutionally limited government.