A recent congressional investigation discovered that not only are dangerous opioids and synthetic opioids being sold through the mail, but they are also slipping past the borders through simple mail packages, and the United States Postal Service doesn’t seem to be doing much to stop it.
According to Senators Rob Portman of Ohio and Tom Carper of Delaware, the USPS and the State Department have rejected any requests made that would require outside companies use electronic shipping information that would require basic information of senders and receivers of international packages through the mail.
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Despite the growing number of opioid-related deaths, massive numbers of illegal and sometimes fraudulent opioid pills and synthetic opioids are being shipped into the country every day through illegal and rogue online pharmacies. Apparently, the two top investigators found many by simply searching google.
By posing as first time buyers, these investigators found multiple sellers that were trying to illegally sell the potentially deadly synthetic opioids, fentanyl, and carfentanil, and even posting “flash sales” for bigger purchases.
These pharmacies have been knowing to be shipping these opioids sold through the mail and paid for by internet payment methods such as bitcoin, PayPal, cash app, etc. The dangerous thing is that the consumers are often expecting one thing, and being sold another.
There was a recent global crackdown on online pharmacies, known as Pangea X, that is a combined effort of the US FDA, police organizations, and Interpol around the world. Combined, they found over 3,500 online pharmacies, 500 packages from these sites, and over $51 million in seized medications.
However, that doesn’t mean that more aren’t popping up every day.
Opioids On Home Soil
It is well known that hundreds of Americans are dying every day from opioid-related deaths. The fact that these people are ordering these medications online is dangerous because the purity of these drugs is largely unknown, and out of most of the medications that Pangea X seized, a large portion was cut with dangerous chemicals.
The investigation that took place recently discovered some pretty harrowing links to users in the United States that were buying opioids sold through the mail.
- Over 500 documented transactions by more than 300 buyers in 43 states
- Over $230,000 was paid out to the online sellers
- Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio had the highest transaction rates (these states also have the highest overdose and death counts besides West Virginia)
- While the shipments originated from China, they were often sent to an immediate location in Europe before their final shipment to the U.S
- The investigators located 18 buyers in the U.S and they were arrested
- They also discovered that many of the buyers had since passed, and read through their obituaries and death records that they had died from fentanyl-related overdoses.
The USPS, Senate, and the Investigation into Opioids
According to government agencies who are responsible for the approval of requiring those electronic shipping information laws, there are many foreign relation reasons that interfere with the United States ability to enforce them. These foreign relations could be a major roadblock in reducing the illegal trafficking of opioids sold through the mail.
Sen Portman of Ohio has pressed the agencies to hold strong on protecting the border through the mail and through customs and had presented the investigation to the Senate to approve of turning it over to law enforcement agencies. Senate voted unanimously in favor of pursuing the information.
After 9/11, private parcel services were required to keep records of all names and addresses of sent and received packages. This allows for customs and border patrol to have easier access to data for investigations around possible terrorist movement, drug trafficking, and potential biochemical attacks.
However, since the United States Postal Service has a much higher shipping and receiving volume, they were passed from that requirement. Since then, international shipments both in and out of the country have increased by 232 percent since 2013, and the USPS has no method of record keeping of these packages.
However, in an effort to crack down on illegal materials and opioids sold through the mail, the USPS has been working with Customs and Border Patrol to inspect any packages that have been sent from specific countries of interest to the U.S. at five international mail centers, such as Miami, New York, and L.A.
Since many of the foreign countries that are shipping packages to the U.S. are not required to provide electronic records, only 36% of the packages sent across our border have tracking info. The investigative subcommittee states that inspection and control over the rest of the packages are like a “needle in a haystack”.
These loopholes in our postal service standards are exactly what drug traffickers are using to sell opioids sent through the mail.
However, thanks to this investigation, “We now know the depth to which drug traffickers exploit our mail system to ship fentanyl and other synthetic drugs into the United States” states Sen. Portman.
The next step is to revamp federal agencies and the USPS to crack down on illegal opioids sold through the mail. Now that the gaps and loopholes have been identified, it will be much more clear on exactly where reform needs to happen.
In what has become the worst epidemic in the United States history, opioid-related deaths have reached catastrophic levels. They have jumped up above car accidents and gun deaths combined, and continue to climb every year.
- Between 2000-2016, over 600,000 Americans died from opioid-related deaths
- In 13 U.S states, there are 100-145 opioid prescriptions per 100 people. 12 states have 80-95 prescriptions per 100 people, and the rest have 50-80 prescriptions per 100 people.
- About 80% of the global opioid supply is consumed in the United States
- 300 million opioids prescriptions were written in 2016
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