This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
As a former governor and the first secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, my number one priority will always be the safety and security of our nation, so it is with alarm that I have watched the rise of the opioid epidemic across the nation.
Six Utahns are being killed in this growing epidemic every week, and more people are dying nationwide from drug overdoses than from gun violence and car accidents – combined. And as this crisis has evolved, it's turned a little-known security loophole in the global postal system into a serious national security threat, one that has created a pipeline for these deadly opioids directly into our communities.
Every day, nearly one million packages arrive in the United States without critical security data that would assist law enforcement in screening and stopping dangerous packages, including harmful, synthetic drugs. Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Congress took steps to improve the security of the postal system, passing legislation that required private couriers to provide advance digital information on packages from overseas. But while the private sector quickly implemented these new security protocols, the global postal system has yet to adapt – making it the favored avenue for bad actors abroad seeking to send dangerous, illegal packages into our country.
We are seeing this play out in the opioid epidemic. Powerful synthetic opioids, including fentanyl and carfentanil, are increasingly manufactured in foreign laboratories, purchased on the "dark web" from Chinese manufacturers and shipped through the global postal system. In fact, a February report by the U.S. – China Economic and Security Review Commission identified China as the primary source for illicit fentanyl in the United States.
This supply of deadly drugs from overseas is fueling the rapidly growing epidemic, and our communities are feeling the impact. In Utah, officials are undertaking admirable efforts to address this public health crisis, including the Utah Department of Health's new "Talk To Your Pharmacist" initiative and the formation of the state's new opioid task force, chaired by Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes and Drug Enforcement Agency District Agent in Charge Brian Besser. However, officials are facing an uphill battle trying to combat this epidemic even as our communities are flooded with new deadly, synthetic drugs every day. To truly address this epidemic, we need to do all we can to shut down the easy supply of these drugs.
Fortunately, elected officials have started to recognize this and are working hard to close this loophole. In February, members of Congress from both parties reintroduced the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act, which would require vital security data on all packages shipped by mail from abroad. Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, is a co-sponsor of the bill in the House. And the Trump administration has indicated its support as well. President Trump promised to close this loophole during the campaign, and his Secretary of Homeland Security General John Kelly agreed in a recent Senate hearing that the STOP Act would help law enforcement keep dangerous drugs out.
I'm working with Americans for Securing All Packages (ASAP), a bipartisan coalition of families, health care advocates, security experts, businesses and nonprofits who all agree that we need to close this postal loophole. There is not a single solution to combating the opioid epidemic, but no approach is satisfactory without taking a serious effort to disrupt the supply chain of these drugs. Closing the global postal loophole is a bipartisan, commonsense step to begin to disrupt the flow of these drugs. Let's make sure our officials across Utah and in Washington, D.C., recognize and address this pervasive threat.
Tom Ridge was the 43rd governor of Pennsylvania and first secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He is a senior advisor to Americans for Securing All Packages (ASAP).