Carper, Portman: Stunning Bipartisan Report Shows How Drug Traffickers Exploit International Mail System to Ship Illegal Opioids into the United States

Report Follows Nearly Year-Long PSI Investigation; Precedes Tomorrow’s Hearing on “Combatting the Opioid Crisis: Exploiting Vulnerabilities in International Mail”

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), the Ranking Member and Chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), today published a stunning new report detailing the Subcommittee’s findings from its nearly year-long investigation into how drug traffickers exploit vulnerabilities in our international mail system to easily ship synthetic drugs like fentanyl from China into the United States. Last year, 318 million international packages entered the U.S. with no advanced electronic data on shipper and recipient name, address, or contents—which is used by federal law enforcement agencies to target packages containing illegal items, like fentanyl.

Tomorrow, the Senators will hold a public hearing, “Combatting the Opioid Crisis: Exploiting Vulnerabilities in International Mail.” The hearing will reveal the details of the investigation as well as policy recommendations resulting from the findings.

“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids are the main driver of drug overdoses in our country, claiming the lives of more than 42,000 Americans in 2016,” said Senator Carper. “My home state of Delaware has not been immune to this crisis, with opioids taking hundreds of lives each year, tearing families apart, and putting an unsustainable strain on our first responders. This bipartisan investigation has uncovered how incredibly easy it is to buy these deadly drugs online and have them shipped here through the mail. We have also learned how ill-equipped federal agencies were to prevent drug smugglers from taking advantage of a massive surge in recent years of e-commerce and international mail to ship synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, into our communities. While progress has been made, much remains to be done. And unfortunately, there are no silver bullets that can solve this problem alone.  Agencies like the Postal Service, U.S. Customs and Border Projection, and the State Department must redouble their efforts to keep illicit opioids from reaching our shores.  It’s also critical that we work more closely with China, the main source for drugs like fentanyl that enter our country, to demand that they cut off the drug supply, while we work at home to stem demand. Tomorrow’s hearing will shed more light on our investigation and will provide an opportunity for a bipartisan dialogue with agencies on the front line of defense. I look forward to continuing this important work with Senator Portman and our colleagues on both sides of the aisle.”

“In my home state of Ohio, fentanyl is now the number one killer, surpassing heroin, prescription drugs, and car accidents as the leading cause of accidental death,” said Senator Portman. “It’s so powerful that just a few flakes of it can kill you, and those who use it not only put themselves in danger, but they also put law enforcement and children at risk. We must keep this poison off our streets and out of our communities. Thanks to our bipartisan investigation, we now know the depth to which drug traffickers exploit our mail system to ship fentanyl and other synthetic drugs into the United States. The federal government can, and must, act to shore up our defenses against this deadly drug and help save lives. The STOP Act is one solution that will help, but we must do much more. I look forward to tomorrow’s hearing and to continuing my work with Senator Carper and my bipartisan colleagues to keep these deadly drugs out of Ohio and our country.”

The report’s key findings include:

·       Fentanyl sellers in China operate openly on the internet, their preferred method of shipping is the U.S. Postal Service because the risk of seizure by Customs & Border Protection (CPB) is small and delivery is basically guaranteed, and their preferred method of payment is cryptocurrency like bitcoin. Fentanyl use and possession is illegal in the U.S. unless prescribed by a physician.

·       Online sellers in China transship purchases through other countries to reduce the risk of illegal opioids being identified and seized by customs officials.

·       The investigation linked online sellers in China to seven confirmed synthetic opioid-related deaths in the U.S. and 18 arrests for drug-related offenses. It also identified several suspected distribution networks that transship purchases into the U.S. from China. The street value of the 500 online transactions discovered by the Subcommittee in its investigation conservatively translates to around $766 million in fentanyl pills to sell on the streets of our communities.

·       The Postal Service and CBP failed to recognize and prepare for the increase in international shipments.  For more than a dozen years after 9/11, the Postal Service failed to set up a system to secure advanced electronic data (AED) that would help CBP better target illegal opioids, rather than CPB manually inspecting packages, which was inefficient and the equivalent to finding a needle in a haystack.  The Postal Service’s efforts since – starting up a pilot program at JFK Airport in 2015 – have been rife with problems, a lack of coordination between agencies, and other setbacks that have left the agency wholly unprepared to prevent the shipment of illegal synthetic opioids into the U.S. 

·       The Postal Service receives AED on only 36 percent of all international packages.  Given the international volume handled by the Postal Service, that means last year the United States received approximately 318 million international packages with no advanced data. China is capable of providing AED on its packages and currently only does so for about half of the packages it ships to the United States. The AED that the Postal Service does receive from foreign postal operators is of low quality, sometimes indecipherable, and potentially useless.