- - Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Toward the end of the summer, I wrote in this paper about the need to attack the nationwide opioid epidemic from every possible angle. Nonprofits, local elected officials and our federal government have admirably worked on efforts ranging from reducing the stigma of addiction to tackling over-prescription. But any successes have been stymied by a failure to address the supply chain for the deadliest synthetic drugs that enter our communities every day.

Now we are finally seeing concrete action to change this. Wednesday, President Trump signed into law the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act, part of a broad package of bipartisan legislation passed by Congress to fight back against the opioid epidemic. The STOP Act targets a loophole in the global postal system that international criminals have exploited for over a decade to ship deadly drugs, including powerful opioids like fentanyl, into the U.S. without detection by law enforcement. While packages sent via private carriers must include advance electronic data (AED), which Customs and Border Protection uses to screen for high-risk material, shipments sent through the international postal system and delivered by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) do not. The STOP Act brings a long-overdue solution, mandating AED on all international packages, including those delivered by USPS.

This is an unquestionable win for every American who has seen their friends, families and communities suffer under the opioid epidemic, or who struggles with addiction themselves. But it’s too early to stop and celebrate. Although the STOP Act passed with overwhelming bipartisan majorities in both chambers of Congress (99-1 in the Senate and 353-52 in the House of Representatives), it must still be fully implemented and enforced.

The USPS Office of the Inspector General recently called on the Postal Service to work with Congress to deter international drug sellers from using its network to ship deadly drugs into the United States. By implementing the STOP Act swiftly and enforcing it to its fullest extent, USPS and related federal agencies have an opportunity to make real progress toward keeping Americans safe. Further, the STOP Act sets clear deadlines for foreign countries to provide comprehensive AED. We cannot afford a delay in meeting these too many lives are put at risk by the toxic synthetic drugs, some over 100 times as potent as heroin, that flow into the country through the mail. Fortunately, the STOP Act won’t cost taxpayers or the postal service anything to implement: any costs will be borne by the senders, as they should have been in the first place.

I’ve spent the last few years as a senior advisor to Americans for Securing All Packages (ASAP), a coalition of health and security experts, nonprofits and companies who are dedicated to bringing an end to the postal loophole. You can guarantee that ASAP will be among the many organizations that will keep a close eye on this issue now that the STOP Act has passed and will hold our federal agencies and elected leaders accountable.

It shouldn’t have taken this long to close the postal loophole, but we’re grateful to the congressional leaders who have championed this cause and helped bring the STOP Act to the finish line, including Senators Rob Portman and Amy Klobuchar, and Representatives Richard Neal, Mike Bishop and Bill Pascrell. It wasn’t long ago that the postal drug pipeline was all but unknown except to criminals. A congressional investigation earlier this year found that online drug sellers actually recommended using the global postal system to send opioids to the U.S., warning that illegal shipments through private carriers are likely to be seized. If the STOP Act is properly enforced, this will no longer be the case, and these criminals will no longer be able to blatantly exploit our security vulnerabilities to profit off the deaths of Americans.

• Tom Ridge was governor of Pennsylvania and the first secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He is a senior advisor to Americans for Securing All Packages, a coalition dedicated to closing the loophole in the global postal system.

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