The centerpiece of new opioid legislation that overwhelmingly passed the House and Senate is a requirement to have advanced electronic data (AED) on all incoming mail from China by January 1, 2019. This will enable U.S. Customs and Border Protection to seize more fentanyl and other opioids from China, the worldwide manufacturing hub for this poison.
For public safety and respect for the broad, bipartisan will of Congress, the Postal Service must meet this deadline. There is ample reason to be concerned, however, that the Postal Service will not address this with the utmost urgency that is clearly needed.
The AED requirement may not be the silver bullet in America’s new drug war, but it is the most important and immediate step the federal government can take. By using data analytics to search AED information, which includes the sender’s name, destination and declared contents, more drugs will be seized.
The last time Congress passed major drug legislation was 1986. That year, 7,969 Americans died from drugs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a 13 percent increase from 1985.
In 2017, there were 72,000 drug deaths, with 49,000 from opioids alone. This marked a one-year increase of 16 percent in opioid deaths from 2016. Experts warn the figures are still rising.
Since early 2017, the Postal Service has consistently, and rigorously opposed legislation sponsored by Senator Rob Portman to require AED. The Postal Service continued its opposition after a bipartisan January 2018 report by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations thoroughly documented that drug cartels openly advertise on the web and that they prefer using the U.S. Postal Service for shipments.
In a January 7, 2018 USA Today Op-Ed, the Postal Service wrote proudly of how it was obtaining AED on 40 percent of inbound international mail, compared with none nearly three years ago.
For context, AED technology is more than 16 years old. Private carriers have been required to use AED on all in-bound packages since shortly after the September 11 attacks.
It is disappointing and tragic to think of how many lives might have been saved had the Postal Service fully embraced AED in 2017.
Furthermore, the Postal Service has a long track record of brazenly defying the will of Congress, that is breaking the law. For the past six years, the Postal Service has failed to set aside any of the required money for its Retiree Health Benefits Fund, obligations which exceed $38.2 billion. Yet, the Postal Service reported that for the quarter ended June 30, it had $11.1 billion in cash.
Some of that $11 billion must be used immediately to ensure more opioids are seized from China. And the Postal Service, which has known the AED requirement would be likely for some time, needs to gear up for the January 1 deadline.
Congress must stay on top of the Postal Service and it can start by asking the following questions:
What is the Postal Service’s game plan to ensure that only mail with AED from China comes into the U.S. starting on January 1? What will happen to the mail and packages that do not have AED?
How cooperative has China been in implementing the policy? Are there actions the State Department can take to help ensure timely compliance with the new law?
What has changed in the Postal Service’s working relationship with Customs and Border Protection now that this law has been enacted?
How quickly will the Postal Service be able to have AED on mail and packages from all countries?
The Postal Service serves America. And today, Americans need to see the same sense of determination from the Postal Service in fighting the opioid epidemic as we see from first responders, medical professionals, drug counselors and loving family members who give their all to help those with addictions.
Delay is not an option for the Postal Service, nor can tolerating such delays be an option for the U.S. Congress.
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