Stopping the Fentanyl scourge means securing the border and our mail

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Comedian Kate Quigley is out of the hospital and recovering from a suspected overdose of cocaine and Fentanyl. She was lucky. Her fellow laugh-makers, Fuquan Johnson and Enrico Colangeli, died from the same mix that was allegedly shared at the Venice Beach, Calif., party. Quigley’s friend, Natalie Williamson, also succumbed.

It is difficult to understate the level of carnage being caused by Fentanyl, a cheap, synthetic opioid that sinister dealers mix in with other drugs. Fentanyl is dozens times more potent than heroin and morphine. Just a tiny amount can shut the brain and major organs down, which is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health advise first responders treating Fentanyl overdoses to wear Nitrile gloves and PPE. The federal Drug Enforcement Administration shares this fiendish fact: “Approximately 666,666 counterfeit pills can be manufactured from 1 kilogram of pure Fentanyl.”

Fentanyl, or one of its myriad variants, played a role in the deaths of rock stars Tom Petty and Prince, rapper Lil Peep and other big name musicians. 

Fentanyl also is killing and wrecking average Americans. More than 50,000 died from it last year alone. When I visited Ohio this summer, a dear friend told me about a family member overdosing on Fentanyl. The woman, in her 20s, survived, but has been held in a hospital’s psychiatric ward for additional treatment. My friend and her family hope she returns to sanity eventually — as do her four children, who now must live with family caregivers. 

Fentanyl was invented in the 1950s and does have legitimate medical uses for pain management. Hardly anyone was using it illicitly until about 15 years ago. Then, the internet changed everything according to Ben Westhoff, author of the book “Fentanyl, Inc.” Rogue chemists found online scientific articles on the chemistry of Fentanyl and began making and then selling it. 

To date, most of the Fentanyl coming into America appears to arrive through the southern border, carried from labs and drug dealers’ compounds in Mexico. We all know that policing the massive southern border is a complicated undertaking. Yet, the recent surge in crossings and arrests underscores the importance of stepping up the effort to stop illicit entries and smuggling. One would hope the Biden administration is acutely aware that a failure to control the border means more Americans will die from Fentanyl, and that he is acting upon it. One would be forgiven for fearing otherwise.

Some Fentanyl, however, comes via the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) in small envelopes and packages, which are ordered online and flow in from China. Back in 2018, Congress enacted the bipartisan Synthetics Trafficking & Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act. Senator Rob Portman, (R-Ohio), led the effort to pass the law and played a key role in exposing how drug traffickers exploit the mail.

The law’s central feature is the requirement that the Postal Service refuse any foreign mail that does not have advanced electronic data detailing who is sending it, what the contents are, and where it is going. The law required this mandate to take effect on Jan. 1, — yet it has not been fully implemented. Dope labs can still drop Fentanyl in international mail destined for America.

What happened? In part, the problem was that the Trump-led Customs and Border Protection (CBP) was slow to issue the regulations to get the job done. In December, Portman and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs gave CBP a little more time, and the agency issued a not-quite final rule in March. The rule puts off fining the USPS for accepting mail without AED another year.

Fully implementing the STOP Act is not as easy as it sounds, notes Kate Muth, executive director of the trade organization, International Mailers Advisory Group. During a recent conversation, she told me some nations “still do much of their retail postal operations manually and have to move now to convert paper customs forms to provide advanced data electronically.” Full implementation of the law also has faltered because the USPS — which has made progress — sometimes lets packages into America despite hold requests from the CBP.

The Biden administration and Congress should direct the USPS to reject more international mail without AED. They also must ensure the CBP has the people and computing power to analyze the big data flowing to look for suspicious activities, and make it a top priority.

Three years have passed since the enactment of the STOP Act and far more years have gone by since illicit Fentanyl started pouring into the country. Enough is enough. It is past time to secure the border and the mail.

Kevin R. Kosar (@kevinrkosar) is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Tags Drug Enforcement Administration Drugs Fentanyl Fentanyl Inc. International Mailers Advisory Group Rob Portman STOP Act Synthetic opioids USPS

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