Keeping Fentanyl Off Our Streets

The opioid crisis continues to ravage the nation, and a growing share of overdose deaths are now the result of synthetic opioids like fentanyl. These drugs are as much as 30–50 times more potent that heroin: just two milligrams of fentanyl (think a couple of grains of salt) would be a lethal dose for the vast majority of Americans.

Chart courtesy of the Department of Health and Human Services

It’s also an extremely lucrative product for traffickers, who obtain fentanyl powder for cheap from countries like China, encapsulate it in pills and sell them here at a massive profit.

These synthetic opioids enter the U.S. a variety of ways, including express delivery services and international mail. A big part of combating this crisis is preventing these drugs from ever reaching our shores.

Last week I visited the UPS facility in Maple Grove to meet with local law enforcement, U.S. postal inspectors, and UPS personnel to talk about this challenge. It’s a busy facility, servicing 700,000 packages and 200 routes each day. Many of the packages come from overseas.

“We’ve never had a drug so toxic that it will take a generation or more to cure,” said Brooklyn Park Police Chief Chief Craig Enevoldson. “It was barely manageable with heroin — not so at all with fentanyl.”

We focused on one bipartisan measure passed by Congress last month that will help do something about it.

Rep. Paulsen with law enforcement and UPS personnel in Maple Grove. Some law enforcement personnel were unable to be photographed due to ongoing undercover investigations.

The Problem:

Under current law, private delivery carriers have to submit “advance electronic data” to U.S. Customs. This data helps CBP identify high-risk shipments for search and potential seizure. But this requirement does not include international mail like the U.S. Postal Service — a glaring loophole exploited by traffickers.

One of the meeting’s attendees, a U.S. Postal Inspector, talked about the need to develop sophisticated models and profiles targeting high-risk shipments likely to contain fentanyl.

The Solution:

With my support, the House passed the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act, bipartisan legislation that will improve the security of the international mail system and help U.S. law enforcement interdict shipments of illegal fentanyl.

The bill extends the advance electronic data submission requirement to the U.S. Postal Service and other international mail carriers, closing this loophole and giving law enforcement another important tool in the effort to keep synthetic opioids away from our shores and off our streets.

The STOP Act was approved by the House in June, and House and Senate negotiators have reached an agreement on a final version of the legislation. I’m optimistic it will be signed into law soon. There’s no one solution to the problem of synthetic opioids, but it is important. It’s just the latest step we’re taking to combat the opioid crisis.