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It’s shockingly easy to get opioids delivered from China right to your door by the U.S. Postal Service AP Photo/Patrick Sison
This Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017 photo shows an arrangement of pills of the opioid oxycodone-acetaminophen in New York. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison)

Online accessibility and major security gaps in the U.S. Postal Service make it shockingly easy for killer opioids like fentanyl to be delivered from overseas right to American dealers’ front doors.

Chinese fentanyl dealers are ruthlessly efficient, offering customers bulk discounts and flash sales, and extremely confident about their ability to get drugs into the country by mail, according to a report that came out of a year-long investigation by a Senate subcommittee.

Their confidence is justified. Posing as buyers, a team from the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations spent a year documenting the path of drugs from other countries to more than 300 American buyers who spent $230,000 importing fentanyl from just six online sellers.

In some cases, following the money led investigators straight to the morgue.

The report details purchases by 49-year-old man in Ohio who paid $2,500 over the course of 10 months to an overseas online seller between May 2016 and February 2017, receiving 18 packages in return. One package sent from China spent just an hour in a Chicago customs office before it was released for delivery. The man died in early 2017, his autopsy report listing “acute fentanyl intoxication” as the cause of death.

The highest numbers of purchases documented came from Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, but the report shows buyers in 43 states. Sellers preferred payment in Bitcoin but were also willing to accept wire transfers, PayPal, credit cards or prepaid gift cards. Investigators have traced the online sellers to seven U.S. opioid deaths and 18 drug arrests so far. The Senate has cleared the report for law enforcement use.

“If we can keep this poison from coming into our country in the first place, we need to do it. And we know we can,” said subcommittee chairman Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said at a Thursday hearing detailing the report and calling out a slate of U.S. Postal and law enforcement representatives. “What this report showed clearly is that we’re not doing everything we can do, even with our current budget restraints.”

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., attends a Senate Governmental Affairs subcommittee hearing on international mail and the opioid crisis, Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. China said Thursday it is ready to work with the United States in fighting illicit opioid shipments after congressional investigators found that Chinese opioid manufacturers exploit weak screening in the U.S. Postal Service to ship large quantities of illegal drugs to American dealers. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

More funding and comprehensive postal reform were the refrain of the witnesses when senators asked what Congress could do to help slam the door on fentanyl.

The Postal Service has obligations that private shippers like UPS, FedEx or DHL do not. Warrants are required to open packages, William Siemer, acting deputy inspector general for the postal service told senators.

Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, private shipping companies began requiring advanced electronic data from packages overseas to allow them to better track packages and hand them to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Agency for further investigation. But the U.S. Postal Service currently gets that data for just 36 percent of the international packages it handles.

Meanwhile, e-commerce is exploding, with the Postal Service’s inbound international mail volume increasing by 232 percent between 2013 and 2017. Given that 498,268,405 packages from overseas went through the system in 2017, it’s unsurprising international drug dealers are confident their “cheap to make, hard to detect” synthetic opioids will go mostly unnoticed by authorities.

The witnesses are sworn in for a Senate Governmental Affairs subcommittee hearing on international mail and the opioid crisis, Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. From left are Joseph Murphy, Chief of International Postal Affairs at the State Department, Robert Cintron, Vice President of Network Operations at the United States Postal Service, Todd Owen, an executive assistant commissioner with Customs and Border Protection, William Siemer, acting deputy inspector general with the United States Postal Service, Daniel Baldwin, section chief in the Office of Global Enforcement at the Drug Enforcement Administration, and Gregory Nevano, deputy assistant director of illicit trade, travel, and finance division with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. China said Thursday it is ready to work with the United States in fighting illicit opioid shipments after congressional investigators found that Chinese opioid manufacturers exploit weak screening in the U.S. Postal Service to ship large quantities of illegal drugs to American dealers. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

More money could pay for more staff and equipment for screening, as well as help fund cooperative efforts across the government, including U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, the Drug Enforcement Agency and others.

The report also recommends the Postal Service better prioritize requirements for electronic shipping data, like the information private shippers receive, and coordination with Chinese authorities, since the purest and therefore deadliest forms of synthetic opioids seems to be originating there.

“It’s about people dying,” Portman told the six witnesses. “Prioritize it.”

Gayle is the Heartland Editor at Rare. She grew up in the Midwest and graduated from Kent State University. Having traveled the world covering defense, Congress, American manufacturing and more, her passion remains explaining what’s going on in D.C. to the rest of the country (and trying to explain the ...Read more
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