In-Depth: Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to allow specially trained U.S. postal workers at U.S. International Service Centers to search mail from foreign countries destined for the U.S. when there is probable cause to believe they contain illicit opioids such as fentanyl or other illegal drugs:
“Fentanyl is flooding our streets and killing Americans. Right now, if a postal worker at a U.S. International Service Center suspects a package contains illegal drugs, they can’t do a thing about it. This bill improves our ability to intercept drugs before they take more lives in Louisiana and around the country.”
When he introduced this bill in the 115th Congress, Sen. Cassidy said:
“China is the main source of the lethal drug fentanyl that is flooding our streets and killing Americans. Right now, if a postal worker in one of these facilities processing foreign mail suspects a package contains illegal drugs, they can’t do a thing about it. This bill will improve our ability to intercept these drugs before they take more lives in Louisiana or around the country.”
Original cosponsor Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) adds:
“Right now, illicit drugs, like fentanyl, meth and illegal opioids, are being mailed into America from other countries. We need stronger tools to stop this and our bipartisan legislation will help prevent the flow of these drugs, like fentanyl being shipped from China. Wisconsin has seen a spike in fentanyl-related overdose deaths and in Milwaukee County alone, we had 188 confirmed fentanyl-related overdose deaths in 2018. We must take action and do more to stop illegal, foreign fentanyl from entering our country through international mail facilities.”
In other comments, Sen. Baldwin said, “We've gotta make sure that our postal service and customs and border patrol agencies have the ability to search and try to protect us in that way.”
This bill has one cosponsor, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). Sen. Baldwin was also this bill’s sole cosponsor in the 115th Congress, when it didn’t receive a committee vote.
Of Note: Fentanyl — a powerful and deadly synthetic opioid analgesic similar to morphine, but 50-100 times more potent than morphine and up to 50 times more powerful than heroin — is often added to heroin. This causes users to experience a stronger effect than they’d planned, often leading to an overdose. As proof of this, the Drug Enforcement Association (DEA) reported that fentanyl was present in 67 percent of the 5,456 drug overdoses in Pennsylvania in 2017. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 29,418 Americans died from fentanyl overdoses in 2017 — up by 840 from 2012.
A nearly yearlong bipartisan Senate investigation found that hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of fentanyl (and likely other drugs) is entering the U.S. through international mail each year. The report looked at just six online sellers offering fentanyl, all of which were found through a simple Google search, and verified the ability to send hundreds of packages to over 300 U.S.-based individuals, largely through the U.S. Postal Service. Due to this finding, the report called on CBP to ramp up the number of packages it targets for inspection, with an emphasis on illegal drugs and for USPS to automate the process for turning over targeted packages.
Currently, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) inspects international mail at five different international shipping centers. However, its job is getting increasingly difficult due to high package volume. In 2017, over 498 million international packages were shipped through through USPS alone — a significant increase from about 275 million in 2016.
The USPS says it uses a combination of “specialized technology, screening protocols, and employee training” to screen mail. However, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) website acknowledges that “the overwhelming volume of mail does not permit the Postal Service to screen every piece."
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / hillwoman2)