Biden’s DHS weakening the STOP Act encourages opioid traffickers

The Biden administration spiked the football about their handling of the coronavirus pandemic and reaching their goals on getting Americans vaccinated. However, at the same time, they are proposing regulations which would further harm a vulnerable group suffering through the pandemic — opioid users. 

The Biden administration is attempting to gut a bipartisan law passed in 2018 to halt the import of opioids — the STOP Act. The administration needs to step up and stop allowing international drug traffickers to send opioids to Americans using our own United States Postal Service (USPS) as a drug mule.

In 2017, Sens. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, and Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat, led a bipartisan coalition which introduced the STOP Act — which would require identifying information to be present for packages shipped from foreign countries to the United States. 

Ms. Klobuchar said upon introduction, “dangerous synthetic drugs that find their way into our communities from overseas through the postal system continue to claim the lives of teenagers and adults.” Mr. Portman pointed out that these drugs are coming from China and India and “drug-traffickers are lacing heroin with fentanyl and other synthetics that are up to 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more powerful than morphine, getting more people addicted.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, joined his colleagues in the initial rollout of the legislation and he pointed out that “we know lethal synthetic drugs such as fentanyl and carfentanil are being shipped in from outside the United States, and they are increasingly contributing to the devastating opioid abuse epidemic.” All of the senators knew the problem that these synthetic drugs from China and India are easily making their way into the hands of users through the regular mail.

The whole goal of this effort was to stop the importation of these drugs — yet the Biden administration is creating a loophole in law that will allow drugs to continue to come in unabated. The bureaucrats at DHS have crafted a rule which undermines the entire reason for the law in the first place. There is still some time to fix the rule before it becomes final, yet there is no indication that the Biden Administration will address any concerns before it does.

Don’t get me wrong, this legislation has been somewhat successful, yet preserving loopholes in the implementation of the law will incentivize bad actors to continue business as usual. There is also a problem with counterfeit goods, like gauze to cosmetics, that are getting into the United States despite the law. This seems like an easy problem to fix if DHS can implement the law as intended.

The Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP) of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is putting out flawed interim final rules (IFR) to implement the STOP Act.

Thomas Overacker, executive director, Cargo and Conveyances Security testified before the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in December of 2020 that “according to USPS data, the volume of mail processed in IMFs peaked in 2017, and foreign sellers exploited the situation by increasing the amount of opioids — particularly fentanyl from China—shipped to the United States.”

An international mail facility (IMF) is the primary way that opioids enter the United States through the U.S. Postal Service. According to Mr. Overacker, the seizure of fentanyl was 4,776 pounds in 2020, almost doubling the amount from the previous year — a good sign, yet the Biden administration preserving loopholes makes the law less effective.

The federal government needs to stop foreign drug runners from using United States Postal Service. If DHS actually required advance electronic data on all packages and so called “letters” imported from foreign postal networks as mandated by the STOP Act, it would go a long way to prevent the import of illegal drugs.  Only the federal bureaucracy would create a definition of “letter” which does not capture what a normal citizen would think of as a small, light envelope sized letter.

A key issue is CBP failed to comply with initial STOP Act enforcement benchmarks. They were slow to issue regulations which the STOP Act required them to finalize a year ago. The final rule titled the “Mandatory Electronic Information for International Mail Shipments” is late and deficient. The USPS could begin to tackle this problem if CBP would actually assist in screening international packages or letters which might contain drugs.

Sens. Portman, Klobuchar and Rubio provided leadership in enacting this law and now it is time for the Biden administration to implement the necessary regulations. Closing loopholes where foreign illicit drug manufacturers use the U.S. Postal Service to mail drugs right to drug dealers will bring us closer to a solution to the opioid epidemic. It would also close one avenue for counterfeit goods coming from China.

• Peter Mihalick is former legislative director and counsel to former Reps. Barbara Comstock, Virginia Republican, and Rodney Blum, Iowa Republican.

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