- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Food and Drug Commissioner Scott Gottlieb urged Congress Wednesday to let his agency destroy unlabeled drugs that pour in through the mail, saying it is not uncommon to see traffickers resend parcels that were rejected once and may contain opioids or other deadly drugs.

FDA inspectors are charged with figuring about whether drug shipments are legitimate, and how the products might be used.

But senders often strip labels from containers or disguise illegal drugs as legitimate products.

Shipments that are sent back often turn up again, sometimes with an inspector’s handwriting still on the outside of the parcel, according to Dr. Gottlieb.

“We can’t destroy it because we can’t establish it’s a drug,” he told the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “It’s not a good deterrent. We often see a package coming back a second or third time.”

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, and Rep. Frank Pallone, New Jersey Democrat, have offered legislation that would beef up the FDA’s inspection resources and enable them to destroy suspicious goods.

The Energy and Commerce panel is vetting the legislation and about two dozen other bills crafted to combat the opioids addiction crisis that’s ravaging the U.S.

Other measures would speed the approval of painkilling alternatives or link ER patients with treatment after they overdose.

The panel will also consider legislation to let doctors know if patients have a history of addiction, to study how many teens are using injectable drugs, and to boost efforts to interdict fentanyl, a synthetic opioid blamed for the recent spike in overdose deaths.

All told, some 25 bills will be on the calendar during a two-day hearing that’s scheduled to stretch into Thursday.

“That is a large number, but the crisis demands that we provide the attention necessary,” Rep. Michael Burgess, Texas Republican, said.

Rep. Frank Pallone, New Jersey Democrat, prodded Congress to finish and approve an omnibus spending bill that frees up $6 billion for the opioids fight in this year and 2019.

Otherwise, he said, the bills under consideration “are nothing more than empty words.”

Opioid-related overdose killed 42,000 people in 2016 and the 2017 figures are expected to be even worse, driven by the surge in deadly fentanyl from clandestine labs overseas.

The federal government is grappling with how to keep those drugs out.

President Trump says a wall along the southern U.S. border would help, while Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio wants to require foreign mail services to send electronic data in advance of packages transmitted to the U.S. Postal Service.

Private couriers like UPS and FedEx always send advanced data, helping U.S. Customs and Border Protection root out illicit parcels, though foreign postal services have been slow to adopt the measure.

Mr. Portman, a Republican, wants to mandate the data through his bipartisan bill, the STOP Act. Yet it’s a thorny issue, because if other countries don’t comply, the U.S. mail could be forced to reject packages from noncompliant countries altogether.

Dr. Gottlieb said his own inspectors could use more resources and tools, because while they target suspicious packages, they aren’t able to “look at everything,” so too many drugs are sneaking through.

“As the sophistication of those trying to penetrate our mail facilities continues to increase, this represents a growing vulnerability,” Dr. Gottlieb said.

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