Postal Updates

Senate subcommittee sounds alarm over opioids shipped with USPS

Jan 26, 2018, 11 AM
United States Postal Service package mail automation and operations. Screen capture from U.S. Postal Service video.

Washington Postal Scene — By Bill McAllister

It’s well known at the United States Postal Service that the surging growth of packages is helping save the agency from the ever-shrinking levels of letter mail.

But now the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations is warning that the package growth brings with it lots of unwelcome mail.

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In a report released Jan. 24, the subcommittee said the Postal Service has become the carrier of choice for foreign drug dealers on the internet who are shipping thousands of dollars worth of deadly fentanyl by mail into the United States.

“We also asked how those online sellers would ship the drugs to us,” the report said. “They all preferred to use the Postal Service over private express carriers like DHL, FedEx and UPS.”


“They told us they used the Postal Service because the chances of the drugs getting seized were so insignificant that delivery was essentially guaranteed,” said the report.

The report, titled “Combating the Opioid Crisis: Exploiting Vulnerabilities in International Mail,” triggered alarms from members of the subcommittee.

The chairman of the panel, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, decried the Postal Service’s failure to move more rapidly over the issue.

He noted that the USPS and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) began to expand a pilot program to spot incoming mail drug shipments after his panel held its first hearing on the issue in May 2017.

“While this is a step in the right direction, it should not take a congressional investigation to get the Postal Service and CBP to do their jobs,” Portman said.

In 2002, Congress required commercial carriers to obtain advanced electronic data (AED) on packages they planned to bring into the United States.

But what the Postal Service would do about inbound mail was left to the discretion of the postmaster general and the Treasury Department.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., who has been one of the Postal Service’s strongest allies in Congress, acknowledged unhappiness over the drug issue.

“All that said, if we only focus on chasing drug shipments after they’ve entered our mail system, we’ll only address the symptoms of this problem,” he said, calling for lawmakers to address “our country’s considerable demand for drugs.”

Carper also called for confronting China, which he described as “the biggest source of illicit opioids entering our country,” and demanded China help curtail the mail shipments.

The Postal Service sent its vice president for network operations, Robert Cintron, to assure a Jan. 25 hearing before the subcommittee that the USPS and CBP were making “significant strides to combat the flow of opioids.”

The Postal Service, he said, was pushing to secure more countries to provide the required advance electronic data on incoming mail parcels.

“The Postal Service understands and continues to share the concerns about illegal drugs and contraband entering the U.S. through the mail and commercial carriers,” Cintron concluded.

The agency issued a similar statement but also voiced concern about a proposed law that would require electronic data on all parcels shipped internationally.

“The Postal Service is prioritizing obtaining AED from the largest volume foreign posts, which collectively account for over 90 percent of inbound volumes and which, unlike some countries, have the capability to provide the information,” the statement said.

It also noted that unlike UPS and FedEx, the USPS cannot require international customers to provide it with AED before accepting their parcels. It must obtain agreements from foreign posts to secure such information via international agreements.

The Postal Service says it gets the electronic statements on “approximately 40 per cent” of inbound mail, a change from “almost no AED” three years ago.

The Postal Service said it still wants modifications to the proposed bill.