WASHINGTON — The U.S. Postal Service is “unprepared to police the mail arriving in our country” that contains illegal drugs, especially opioids, the head of a Senate homeland security investigations subcommittee said Thursday. 

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said the Senate homeland security Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations had investigated foreign websites that sell fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times more potent than heroin, and ship it to the U.S. The investigation found: 

  • Many of the hundreds of websites that sell illegal drugs openly are associated with Chinese labs
  • Online sellers said they preferred to ship the drugs using the Postal Service rather than private carriers because “the chance of the drugs getting seized were so insignificant that delivery was essentially guaranteed.” 
  • More than 500 payments to online sellers by more than 300 Americans 
  • The Postal Service only received information in advance that which would help them identify suspicious packages, on 36 percent of international packages entering the U.S. 

Few countries, especially few developing countries, have the ability to provide advance electronic data for all mail requiring customs declarations, said State Department Chief of International Postal Affairs Joseph Murphy. He said, however, he expected the U.S. to be receiving advance electronic data on most of its international mail by 2020.  

“We’ve got to get an urgency to this,” said Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., who appeared exasperated after none of the witnesses could answer her question about whether change was limited by international agreements.  

Senators and witnesses said China was the largest sender of opioids to the U.S. and said drugs also often enter the country from Mexico. Senators also said that two Chinese nationals who the Drug Enforcement Agency indicted on charges of making and selling fentanyl were not prosecuted by the Chinese government.  

To solve the problem, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, suggested more funding for the Postal Service. DEA Office of Global Enforcement Chief Daniel Baldwin suggested working more closely with foreign governments whose citizens send opioids to the U.S., particularly China.  

U.S. Postal Service Vice President of Network Operations Robert Cintron highlighted Postal Service efforts to improve opioid targeting including better partnerships between the Postal Service and Customs and Border Patrol, software updates, better employee training and a formalized relationship with both Customs and Border Control and the Food and Drug Administration. 

U.S. Postal Service Acting Deputy Inspector General William Siemer highlighted the challenges the Postal Service faces that private companies do not, such as the volume of packages received (more than 14 million packages each day, he said), the need for a warrant to inspect packages and the limited electronic data it receives.  

Portman said in his opening statement that over 63,000 Americans died from overdoses in 2016. The states most affected by the opioid crisis  are West Virginia, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Ohio and Americans use more opioids per capita than any other country, Vox reports.