The U.S. may start blocking millions of pieces of international mail in January after the government missed key deadlines for a law meant to catch illicit shipments of synthetic opioids, lawmakers warned Thursday.
The rate of inbound international packages tagged with identifying information, which helps Customs and Border Protection flag illicit mail including deadly shipments of the powerful synthetic fentanyl, stood at 54% in October, a U.S. Postal Service official told a Senate panel. By Jan. 1, 2021, all international mail coming into the U.S. must include advance electronic data, which contains the identifying information, or it will be blocked.
If compliance with the AED requirement doesn’t increase, the government could block or destroy as many as 150,000 packages coming to the U.S. per day, said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), chairman of the Senate Homeland and Governmental Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, based on a recent estimate given to his staff.
“A portion of inbound international packages will not be accompanied by AED, and the Postal Service stands ready to keep these packages out of the U.S. mail stream,” Robert Cintron, vice president of logistics for USPS, said in his written testimony. “Absent alternatives, this will disrupt—to one degree or another—the flow of international mail.”
Some mail is exempt from this requirement, Cintron said in his testimony before the Senate Homeland subcommittee. Cintron did not lay out how much of a disruption noncompliance with the law, the STOP Act (part of Public Law 115-271), will cause. He said CBP should provide guidance on “remedial measures” for shipments that don’t meet the requirements.
About 15% to 20% of affected shipments could receive waivers, Thomas Overacker, executive director of cargo and conveyance security at CBP said during the hearing. His agency is still working to finalize regulations to grant waivers.
U.K., Japan, Australia
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), ranking member of the Senate Homeland investigation panel, said countries like the U.K., Japan, and Australia have relatively low rates of compliance with AED requirements and could be the most disrupted.
China Post is largely in compliance, Cintron said, but 135 other countries and territories weren’t meeting the requirements as of March, according to a report from the USPS Office of Inspector General.
Millions of pounds of illicit drugs come into the U.S each year by mail. Since April 2016, the government has seized and destroyed more than 12.9 million capsules, tablets, and other units of drugs weighing more than 41.2 tons coming into international mailing facilities, according to an October report from the Food and Drug Administration.
The STOP Act has helped slow the flow of drugs, namely fentanyl, a drug experts say has contributed to the spike in overdose deaths in recent years, Overacker said.
Border officials are now seeing an increase in attempts to smuggle drugs through land ports along the southern U.S. border, however, Overacker said.
Overdose deaths reached an all-time high in 2019 and may be increasing this year.
There were 71,327 deaths from overdoses reported in 2019, which tops the nation’s previous yearly record of 70,699 deaths in 2017, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Preliminary data for 2020 show overdose rates are rising in the U.S. by as much as 16.6% compared with 2019.
With assistance from Shaun Courtney
To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ruoff in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org