Save lives, restore congressional respect by strengthening opioids’ seizure
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Imagine if terrorists were launching attacks that were taking the lives of 115 Americans daily and corroding the fabric of our society. Congress, as it has done historically, would probably drop partisan rancor to adopt practical, common-sense solutions that are clearly in the nation’s best interest. 

A similar assault is under way and a similar response needed. Large quantities of opioids are flooding into the U.S. via international mail from China, where most of this poison is made. As a riveting Jan. 24 bipartisan report from the Senate documented, odds are high that opioids manufactured and marketed by sophisticated Chinese criminal enterprises will make it through international mail and be delivered by the U.S. Postal Service.


Even before the most recent Senate report, these issues have been well known. In February 2017, the congressionally chartered U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission reported, “Chemical flows from China have helped fuel a fentanyl crisis in the United States, with significant increases in U.S. opioid overdoses, deaths and addiction rates reoccurring over the last several years.” 

In December, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that opioids killed 42,000 Americans in 2016, equivalent to 115 each day. The 2017 figures are expected to be significantly higher.

The Jan. 24 report from the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations outlined how fentanyl can be readily purchased online via Google and digital currency. It says, “Their sales pitches made it sound easy to purchase fentanyl, and each preferred to ship any purchases to the United States through the international arm of the Postal Service.” 

It is very difficult to track and identify these items because only 36 percent of international mail packages entering the U.S. have advanced electronic data (AED), that is electronic information about the shipper, content, delivery point and other data points. With AED and advanced analytics, law enforcement is much better able to identify likely suspicious packages and intercept them.

Under the current voluntary system, the percent of international mail packages with AED has been holding steady. However, the overall volume of inbound international mail increased by 232 percent from 2013-2017, according to the Senate report. More than 300 million international mail packages enter the U.S. annually, with no AED.

AED is already required of private shippers sending international packages from China to the U.S. And, it is a known technology that can be implemented relatively quickly. 

Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSenate panel eyes vote on parks funding bills after key deadline Graham 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 MORE (R-Ohio) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharHillicon Valley: State officials share tech privacy concerns with Sessions | Senator says election security bill won't pass before midterms | Instagram co-founders leave Facebook | Google chief to meet GOP lawmakers over bias claims Election security bill won't pass ahead of midterms, says key Republican Senate Democrats increase pressure for FBI investigation of Kavanaugh MORE (D-Minn.) have persistently led the push to stop opioids in the mail and require AED on all in-bound packages via the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Act (STOP Act). 

The STOP Act already has large and growing bipartisan support in Congress. The House measure has 252 co-sponsors, including 89 Democrats. In the Senate, the 29 co-sponsors include Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenLawmakers unveil massive bipartisan bill aimed at fighting opioid crisis Dems push back on using federal funds to arm teachers Admiral defends record after coming under investigation in 'Fat Leonard' scandal MORE (D-Mass.), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDem lawmaker trolls Trump over reception of UN speech Trump: Boasting line in UN speech was 'meant to get some laughter' Kaine mocks Trump over UN laughter, resurfaces old tweet calling Obama a 'laughing stock' MORE (D-Va.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioJudd Gregg: Two ideas whose time has not come Nikki Haley: New York Times ‘knew the facts’ about curtains and still released story March For Our Lives founder leaves group, says he regrets trying to 'embarrass' Rubio MORE (R-Fla.) and Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanDems push back on using federal funds to arm teachers House panel advances DHS cyber vulnerabilities bills Chris Pappas wins Democratic House primary in New Hampshire MORE (D-N.H.).

During the 2016 campaign, President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: Dems playing destructive 'con game' with Kavanaugh Several Yale Law classmates who backed Kavanaugh call for misconduct investigation Freedom Caucus calls on Rosenstein to testify or resign MORE forcefully called for ending international mail drug shipments. His own drug commission endorses the STOP Act as does the Fraternal Order of Police and many law enforcement agencies.

As Homeland Security Secretary, John Kelly testified in April that AED would help in fighting drug trafficking. In November, incoming Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenWatchdog finds FEMA chief cost government 1K on unauthorized travel: report Webb: The new mob: Anti-American Dems DOJ employee in Project Veritas video says she was fired for confronting Kirstjen Nielsen at restaurant MORE testified in support of the STOP Act because of the interdiction benefits it would provide.

Opponents of the STOP Act, while usually acknowledging the measure’s laudable goals, will claim that it will mean delays in inbound mail. 

Americans have shown that they can patiently accept delays at airport screenings. Waiting an extra few days for a pair of sunglasses or other items ordered from China is a reasonable inconvenience if it means saving lives. 

Opponents also often state that current enforcement efforts are underfunded, and more money should be designated there. While more funding is probably also necessary, the bigger point is that the lack of AED results in far less efficient use of law enforcement time and resources, as the experts in the field lack the tools to better pinpoint and ultimately seize opioids. 

The time has come for Congress to adopt a common-sense solution that will curtail the availability of opioids in every state in the union. Enacting the STOP Act will save lives, empower law enforcement and be a step in restoring respect for Congress. 

Paul Steidler is a senior fellow with the Lexington Institute, a public policy think based in Arlington, Va.