WATCH | Lawmakers say a loophole makes it easier for foreign distributors to ship deadly, illegal drugs into the United States directly through the U.S. Postal Service. It's an issue raised by our partners at Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson.
It’s August on a highway outside Cincinnati. Officers pull over a car, smell pot and do a search. They find a potentially deadly surprise: heroin laced with synthetic drugs. One of them is 10,000 times more powerful than morphine, with a tiny amount strong enough to knock out a 2,000 pound elephant.
"This stuff will kill you in micrograins. What would be the equivalent of grains of salt would cause you to die," said Gary Tuggle, special agent in charge of the DEA's Philadelphia field office.
Tuggle is talking carfentanil and fentanyl, the hot new drug of choice for many heroin users. "We’ve drummed up an increased focus on going after these groups on the internet that are trafficking in fentanyl," Tuggle said.
It is an international fight for the DEA considering carfentanil and fentanyl are typically manufactured overseas and shipped into the U.S.
The drugs get mixed in with the millions of foreign packages that show up here every day, and get screened by U.S Customs and Border Protection.
The DEA says flagging dope isn’t impossible because it stinks and often takes up a decent amount of space. But these synthetic drugs come in stealth.
It doesn't occupy the volume or space that marijuana or cocaine would occupy.
These drugs are large contributors to the nation's opioid crisis. And getting them here is actually pretty easy. As Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) points out, "Believe it or not, they just use the good ol' Postal Service."
Klobuchar is part of a group of U.S. lawmakers trying to close that loophole they say allows foreign drug distributors to get illicit drugs in right through our front door.
Right now, foreign packages carried by private companies like FedEx and UPS have to supply advanced electronic data. It details who sent it, where the package came from and other specifics. A 2002 federal law requires that. But the law doesn't apply to the U.S. Postal Service.
“These dealers see an opening and they go for it," Klobuchar said. "We are the ones that have to be as sophisticated as they are. That means putting tracking information on the packages.”
Lacking advanced data means that when U.S. Customs tries to red-flag suspicious packages that come through USPS, it’s a needle-in-a-haystack search.
The bill Klobuchar is co-sponsoring is called the STOP Act. It would require advanced electronic tracking data for all shipments from foreign countries that use our postal system.
"If Target can find a pair of shoes with a SKU number in Hawaii, we should be able to track these packages that are getting people addicted and killing them," Klobuchar said.
USPS wouldn’t talk on-camera, but said it gets that data on a substantial amount of packages, and new regulations from this year “enhance their ability." There’s also a screening pilot program in the works.
Tom Ridge, the country's original Homeland Security secretary, is talking on behalf of a group pushing to close the loophole as well. He considers it a serious risk because it contributes to deadly drugs making their way into the country. "It’s a weapon of mass destruction, more and more people getting killed every day," he said.
Ridge is quick to dismiss critics who question his role as a paid advocate for Americans for Securing All Packages, saying the issue wasn't getting serious attention until he started speaking up.
We're not saying to any and all people, this is the answer. It's a gateway for these illicit drugs and let's narrow that ability.