- - Wednesday, August 22, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In communities across the country, politicians at the federal, state and local levels are understandably putting solutions to the opioid epidemic at the top of their list of priorities.

From Wall Street to Main Street, from rural farming communities to urban centers and neighboring suburbs, the stories of addiction, death and destruction by opioids touch us all. It’s an issue only exacerbated by the growing prevalence of unimaginably potent synthetic drugs. According to a new health alert from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over half of 2017 overdose deaths involved fentanyl — a drug 50 times more powerful than heroin that can kill in amounts smaller than a grain of sand.

Congressional leadership is focused on legislative solutions for the crisis and is looking to pass a package of bipartisan opioid bills to help save American lives. But if the Senate hopes to make any real progress, it must ensure that its legislation is truly comprehensive. That means recognizing the impact of fentanyl, which is commonly manufactured overseas and smuggled into the United States, and taking action to keep it out of American communities and homes.

A commonsense first step is closing a major loophole in the international postal system used by drug traffickers to ship synthetic opioids across our borders. International packages sent through private carriers are required to include advance electronic data, or AED — basic security information that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and other national security agencies use to screen shipments for dangerous material.

But the more than 1.3 million foreign packages sent daily via the global post and delivered by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) do not require AED. That’s left CBP unable to comprehensively screen and stop foreign fentanyl, and drug dealers have taken advantage of this porous system. According to a bipartisan congressional study, online opioid sellers recommend the global postal service for delivering drugs, and warn that drugs sent by private carriers will be “detained frequently.”

Congress already has a ready-to-go answer to this loophole: The Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act. The STOP Act would require AED on all foreign packages, including those delivered by the U.S. Postal Service. It passed the House of Representatives by an overwhelming margin earlier this summer. The bill is backed by leading groups concerned with the epidemic, including the Fraternal Order of Police and the American Medical Association. And through its use by private carriers, we already know that AED has proven results. What’s more, the STOP Act wouldn’t put any additional financial burden on the USPS — the bill directs the service “to ensure that all costs associated with complying with this Act are ‘charged directly to foreign shippers or foreign postal operators.’”

It’s time to give our law enforcement agencies the comprehensive tools they need to push back against the tide of synthetic opioids. I applaud the wide range of initiatives that have been proposed and implemented across the country, from funding for overdose reversal drugs, to training for EMS officials, to efforts that reduce the stigma of addiction. But any effective solution must also tackle the issue of supply and seek to cut off deadly opioids at the source. The STOP Act has strong, bipartisan support in the Senate, including an agreement on a path forward for the bill from the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee.

As a presidential candidate, President Trump acknowledged the importance of closing the global postal loophole during a campaign speech in New Hampshire, and stated in a subsequent plan that his administration would “crack down on the abuse of the loopholes in the Postal Service to literally mail fentanyl and other drugs to users and dealers in the United States.” Now, the president is urging the Senate to quickly pass the STOP Act to prevent fentanyl from “killing our children and destroying our country.” So we can’t delay — let’s close the postal loophole so that our comprehensive efforts to stem the crisis can truly be successful.

• Tom Ridge was governor of Pennsylvania and the first secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He is a senior adviser to Americans for Securing All Packages, a coalition dedicated to closing the loophole in the global postal system.

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