On Friday, the President Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis held its first meeting to address the public health scourge killing more Americans annually than gun violence or car accidents. Addressing the opioid epidemic could not be more urgent and the expertise and breadth of experience residing in this task force is a clear acknowledgement that there is no single solution: it will take the concerted efforts of all aspects of our society to resolve America's opioid crisis. But no strategy will work without a serious approach to the illegal supply chain that is allowing these drugs to enter the U.S. in the first place. Too often it begins with the global postal system.
Synthetic, lethal drugs – including fentanyl, carfentanil and “Gray Death” – are increasingly ordered over the dark web and shipped directly to Americans’ homes. A February report from the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission found chemicals from China are responsible for fueling the fentanyl crisis in the United States. Nevertheless, more than 340 million packages reach the United States every year without security information that would help law enforcement officials detect and stop packages containing illicit drugs. While private carriers provide this vital data, it is not required for packages shipped through the global postal system. This loophole has left our police and other government agencies without the tools they need to combat foreign opioids, and we are seeing the deadly results.
It’s unacceptable that these poisons can seamlessly reach our communities. It just shouldn’t be possible for foreign bad actors to ship deadly drugs to the U.S. without being detected.
Day after day, countless headlines tell the tragic stories of lives cut short by opioids. Just last week, new data affirmed the grim toll of the crisis, estimating approximately 59,000 – 65,000 Americans died from overdoses in 2016. That makes drug overdose the leading cause of death for Americans under 50. And our police and first responders are at risk on the front lines. The Drug Enforcement Administration recently released a national warning advising law enforcement to take extreme caution when handling substances that could be a fentanyl analog or another synthetic opioid, notably after several accidental overdoses among officers on duty in communities across the country.
It’s unacceptable that these poisons can seamlessly reach our communities. It just shouldn’t be possible for foreign bad actors to ship deadly drugs to the U.S. without being detected. As the first Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, I am committed to protecting the safety and security of all Americans. That’s why I’m working with Americans for Securing All Packages, a bipartisan coalition of health care advocates, national security experts, businesses and nonprofits, to draw attention to this issue and close the loophole allowing deadly drugs to reach our communities from abroad.
Fortunately, President Trump has shown that he recognizes the severity of this issue and the urgent need for action. In a campaign speech in New Hampshire and in his plan to address the opioid epidemic, the president addressed this threat, saying 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.” The president’s commission is a welcome step, and proof that he is dedicated to acting on his promise to the American people.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have also taken notice. In February, bipartisan members in both the House and Senate reintroduced the Synthetics Trafficking & Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act, which would require advance electronic security data on packages shipped to the United States from abroad. If passed, this legislation would help improve federal intelligence agencies’ abilities to target and stop packages containing weapons, biohazards, synthetic drugs and other contraband from entering the U.S.
Sadly, America’s opioid epidemic appears to grow increasingly dire every day. While the epidemic will not be solved with a silver bullet, we have to take a multifaceted approach to resolving this crisis. As the commission works to address the deadliest drug epidemic in U.S. history, we hope they will act on President Trump’s words and target the loophole fueling the flow of deadly drugs into the U.S. There’s too much at stake to ignore this urgent matter.
Tom Ridge, Chairman of Ridge Global, served as the 43rd governor of Pennsylvania and was the first Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.