WASHINGTON—Illegal shipments of the powerful and addictive opioid fentanyl are pouring into the United States by mail from China, estimated to be worth a street value of about $766 million, according to a congressional report unveiled on Jan. 24.
The report was issued after a year-long probe by the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs investigations subcommittee, which found that buyers could easily access and purchase fentanyl, often in large quantities, through the internet.
The investigation was overseen by Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, the subcommittee chairman, and Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, the panel’s senior Democrat.
U.S. fatalities linked to opioids, including fentanyl, have been rising dramatically in recent years. The number reached more than 42,000 in 2016, according to government data.
China is the primary source for fentanyl entering the United States. The Senate subcommittee found that the drugs are frequently mailed by “labs” in China to individuals who consume them or to middlemen who dilute them for resale. Investigators did not divulge the names of the labs.
According to the report, the U.S. Postal Service has failed to widely deploy a system to capture advanced electronic data (AED) about packages destined for American ports, which would have helped identify suspicious mail to be turned over to U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents.
The U.S. Postal Service said in a statement it was “working aggressively with law enforcement and key trading partners to stem the flow of illegal drugs entering the United States.”
USPS is “prioritizing obtaining AED from the largest volume foreign posts, which collectively account for over 90 percent of inbound volumes,” the statement said.
Drugs Through the Mail
Staff of the Permanent Investigations Subcommittee posed as interested buyers of fentanyl online and focused their investigation on six providers in China who responded promptly to their queries.
The subcommittee identified more than 300 U.S.-based individuals who had completed over 500 financial transactions with those six providers.
Senate investigators also traced seven synthetic opioid-related deaths in the United States directly to the six providers: They had wired money to accounts linked to the six sellers and received packages days and weeks before their deaths.
Investigators said the Chinese sellers were eager to ship the fentanyl using Express Mail Service, which operates worldwide through each country’s postal operations, including the U.S. Postal Service.
Most sellers diverted the packages through other countries to avoid detection or scrutiny by U.S. customs. Surcharges were applied, the investigators said, for customers demanding shipment through private delivery services, such as FedEx, DHL and United Parcel Service, because of the greater likelihood the goods would be seized.
Because fentanyl is not widely used as a recreational drug in China, its production and sale have been mostly unregulated until recently. In June 2017, China announced that it would enact regulations on two fentanyl precursor chemicals, NPP and 4ANPP.
The Senate investigation concluded that the U.S. Postal Service received advanced electronic data on 36 percent of all international packages, meaning about 318 million parcels last year were not monitored.
“We now know the depth to which drug traffickers exploit our mail system to ship fentanyl and other synthetic drugs into the United States,” Portman said in a statement.
The report recommended tighter monitoring of international shipments, increased inspections, and other steps.
By Richard Cowan. Annie Wu of The Epoch Times contributed to this report.