- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 10, 2018

The amount of deadly fentanyl seized by U.S. border agents nearly doubled from 2016 to 2017, according to a Senate report that says the opioid epidemic’s number-one killer is slipping through ports of entry far too easily.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, said the amount snatched by Customs and Border Protection spiked to 1,370 pounds last year, up from about 560 pounds.

While agents at mail facilities tend to chalk up more fentanyl seizures overall, three-quarters of the fentanyl — by weight — is being intercepted at the southern border, the senator’s investigation found.

Fentanyl is an incredibly potent opioid that’s manufactured in clandestine labs overseas, namely China, and finds its way to U.S. communities through the mail or typically smuggling routes through Mexico.

Dealers are increasingly lacing heroin with the stuff, driving up overdose death rates among unsuspecting users. Opioids of some form killed 42,000 people in 2016, though estimates suggest the problem worsened in 2017 as more fentanyl poured in — a dynamic underscored by the McCaskill report.

The senator, who is facing a tough reelection battle this year, says border facilities need 4,000 more port officers to do their job effectively. She is pushing legislation that would lead to more hires.

“Illicit fentanyl is now a huge driver in this national public health crisis, and this report shows a staggering increase in products being shipped and smuggled to the United States,” Ms. McCaskill said. “There is no silver bullet to solving this influx of opioids, but at the very least we need to ensure that our ports are adequately staffed and equipped to deal with this problem—and right now that’s simply not the case.”

President Trump says his border wall and get-tough immigration policies should help stem the tide of opioids trafficking and abuse, which he declared to be a public health emergency last year.

Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, meanwhile, says Congress should pass legislation that requires foreign mail systems to send electronic data on their packages before they arrive in the U.S.

Express couriers like FedEx and UPS already require the data, he says, helping customs agents target suspicious packages and interdict more drugs.

Ms. McCaskill’s report suggests that private couriers still struggle with illicit fentanyl, however. While the U.S. mail sees a greater number of small fentanyl shipments, larger amounts are shipped through private carriers.

“Although CBP depends on package data provided by express shippers in order to target packages likely to contain opioids and contraband, this information can be incomplete,” she said.

The senator said the CBP might need to crack down. While the agency can issue fines against private couriers who provide incomplete data, express shippers negotiated down $26 million in penalties between 2014 and 2016 down to just $4 million.

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