Lawmakers also request GAO reviews federal support for community-based substance use programs to identify improvements, ensure cultural competency
Text of Letter to CBP and USPS (PDF) | Text of Letter to GAO (PDF)
Washington (October 21, 2022) – Today, Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking, and Representative David Trone (MD-06), the Commission’s co-Chair, wrote to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the United States Postal Service (USPS), calling on them to take additional steps to stop the mailing of synthetic opioids into the country. Separately, the lawmakers wrote to the General Accountability Office (GAO) asking it to examine how federal programs that support community efforts to address substance use and substance use disorder can be improved. The letters follow Senator Markey and Representative Trone’s ongoing efforts urging the Biden administration to adopt key policy recommendations from the Commission’s February report.
In their letter to CBP and USPS, the lawmakers pointed to the more than 90 countries receiving waivers for Advanced Electronic Data (AED) requirements for inbound international mail put in place through the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act. AED comprises critical information about international shipments, including the description of the contents and shipper’s name, which CBP uses to target and interdict shipments that might contain illegal drugs, such as fentanyl. Widespread AED waivers undermine efforts to identify packages containing fentanyl or other illegal substances and stop them from entering the United States. Senator Markey and Representative Trone also stressed the need for CBP to make inroads in closing the ‘letter-class mail loophole,’ which exempts envelopes and lightweight packages from AED screening requirements. This loophole incentivizes traffickers to ship envelopes and lightweight packages containing high-purity synthetic opioids into the country while evading AED screening.
“The more than 90 countries still receiving AED waivers under the STOP Act pose a potential risk to our efforts to stop the flow of illicit fentanyl into this country,” the lawmakers wrote to CBP and USPS. “Those waivers increase the likelihood that traffickers will ship synthetic opioids or their precursors to the United States through an AED-exempt country as an intermediary, thereby evading the STOP Act’s requirements. CBP must address these types of transshipment risks as soon as possible.”
They continued, “USPS should investigate whether inbound letter-class mail contains synthetic opioids and, in coordination with other relevant agencies, assess whether excluding such mail from AED requirements undermines our efforts to stop the shipment of fentanyl and its analogues to the United States from abroad.”
In a separate letter, the lawmakers asked the GAO to review the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s (ONDCP) Drug-Free Communities (DFC) Support Program, which supports some 700 community efforts across the country in identifying and addressing substance use and substance use disorder. Specifically, they requested the GAO examine evidence-based and cost-effective DFC programming efforts and the ways in which those efforts can be made more culturally competent to establish trust and meet the needs of marginalized communities.
“The DFC Support Program is a vital tool in the fight against substance use and substance use disorder. By mobilizing communities to help identify and respond to the drug problems unique to their neighborhoods, the program’s collaborative approach creates a targeted plan aimed at tackling substance use at the local level,” the lawmakers wrote to the GAO. “However, more can be done to target DFC programming to help reduce substance use and the progression to a substance use disorder.”
The lawmakers continued, “Increasing social supports for individuals, families, and communities can help prevent substance use and the progression to substance use disorder. It is our obligation to ensure the federal government is doing all it can to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of ONDCP’s efforts in this area.”
The Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking was established by the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act and tasked with examining the threat that synthetic opioids pose to the United States, and with developing a bipartisan, strategic approach to stanching their flow into the country. The Commission issued its final report in February.
Senator Markey has led legislative efforts to combat synthetic opioid trafficking and support communities in combating the opioid epidemic and substance use disorder, including:
- In February, Senator Markey introduced the Opioid Treatment Access Act to expand access to methadone for treatment of substance-use disorder, including allowing pharmacies to dispense methadone for opioid treatment and permitting patients to access take-home doses earlier in their treatment.
- In October 2021, Senators Markey and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), reintroduced the Community Re-Entry through Addiction Treatment to Enhance (CREATE) Opportunities Act, bipartisan legislation that creates a new federal program to support local and state opioid treatment and prevention facilities.
- In June 2021, in the Senate-passed U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, Senator Markey secured his provision to increase oversight of U.S. government efforts to combat the illicit fentanyl and opioid trade originating from the People’s Republic of China.
- In April 2021, Senator Markey and his colleagues introduced the STOP Fentanyl Act legislation that would improve public health efforts to respond to deadly illicit fentanyl and other synthetic opioids by expanding access to substance-use treatment, enhancing overdose prevention, and improving public health surveillance, monitoring, and education.