Rob Portman: Mail delivery of synthetic heroin must stop

It happens daily, but we can stop it

Every day, poison is being shipped from China and other nations into our communities through our mail system.

Synthetic forms of heroin like fentanyl, carfentanil, and U-4 are pouring into this country. These drugs are even more deadly than heroin — 50 times more toxic in some cases. Fentanyl is so powerful that all it takes is two milligrams — the equivalent of a pinch of salt — to kill you.

These drugs are killing our neighbors at record levels. Drug overdoses have been the leading accidental cause of death in Ohio since 2007, surpassing car accidents. Increasingly, these overdoses are to synthetic forms of heroin. In 2013, about one in 20 drug overdoses in Ohio were overdoses of fentanyl. In 2014, it was one in five. Now it’s more than one in three. In 2015, more than 1,000 Ohioans were killed by these drugs.

But it’s not just an Ohio problem. This is happening in your state and your hometown, too. In 2015, all 50 states had positive forensic tests for fentanyl.

According to the U.S.-China Commission, most of these drugs are made in China and are then shipped either to this country or to Mexico, where it is then smuggled into the United States.

These Chinese synthetic drugs are coming here on such a scale that, ahead of his recent meeting with President Xi, I urged President Trump to prioritize this issue.

I will continue to press China to take steps to shut down the laboratories that produce synthetic heroin. But Congress needs to take action on this issue, too.

In 2002, Congress passed a bipartisan law telling private couriers like UPS, FedEx and DHL that they must require advance digital information on any package coming into this country from overseas — information like where the package is coming from, where it’s going, and what’s in it.

In the same legislation, a similar requirement for the postal service was recommended. Unfortunately, it never happened.

We’re now seeing the results. While private couriers have been able to help law enforcement track suspicious packages and stop drugs and counterfeit goods from entering our country, they continue to flow easily into the U.S. through the postal service, which is the popular channel for drug traffickers.

This digital information — called “advance electronic data” — really helps, and I’ve seen that firsthand.

I recently toured a UPS processing center in Columbus, Ohio. I was really impressed with their ability to scan large numbers of packages quickly and effectively, and they told me how they work with law enforcement to help find dangerous packages. They also told me that without the required information, finding these dangerous drugs would be like finding a needle in a haystack.

Law enforcement in Ohio and at the federal level have repeatedly told me that Congress should finish the job it started in 2002 and require the postal service to provide advanced electronic data to Customs and Border Protection (CPB) like private carriers do. The CPB’s Todd Owen told the Senate Homeland Security Committee last year that Customs has to process 275 million packages coming into this country every year. “Having the advance data [from private carriers] allows us to be much more effective in our targeting.”

After listening to law enforcement around Ohio and at the federal level, I introduced legislation to do just that. It’s called the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention Act, or the STOP Act. My co-author is Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and we have 10 other co-sponsors from across the political spectrum.

Our bill would finally close the loophole and require the postal service to provide advanced electronic data to CBP. Having this information will ensure that CBP can better target potential illegal packages and keep these dangerous drugs from ending up in the hands of drug traffickers. It won’t cost taxpayers a dime because the bill requires the cost to be passed to foreign carriers – the same practice that private carriers use.

Support is building for this bipartisan effort. President Trump endorsed the idea on the campaign trail last year. Senator Elizabeth Warren recently became the 10th Senator to formally come out in support of this bill, and there’s an identical companion measure that has been introduced in the House by Congressmen Pat Tiberi of Ohio and Richard Neal of Massachusetts. Homeland Security Secretary Kelly testified before the Senate last week that he thinks the bill “would be helpful” to identify packages of synthetic drugs. The Fraternal Order of Police and the Major County Sheriffs of America have endorsed it, too, because they are desperate for better tools to push back against the worst drug epidemic in our nation’s history.

Pass the STOP Act to stop synthetic heroin and save more lives.


Rob Portman

Guest columnist



Rob Portman is a United States senator from Ohio. You may contact him through his website: