Juliette Kayyem: A tragic opioid loophole
BOSTON — Massachusetts is now years into the opioid crisis. Headlines from just the last few months serve as a grim reminder of the epidemic's firm grip across the entire state, reflecting how our opioid-related death rate is more than double the national average. Police just arrested an Adams man tied to eight overdoses, including a death from fentanyl. In Springfield, local firefighters revived a man who had overdosed on opioids using the overdose-reversal drug Narcan. Over 200 people suffered fatal opioid overdoses in just the first three months of this year. It's clear that we are not doing enough to protect our friends, neighbors and children in this public emergency.
As more families experience the horror of losing a loved one to a fatal overdose, international drug traffickers are making a profit. The most powerful opioids fueling the crisis, like fentanyl, are regularly entering the country thanks to a loophole in the global postal system. Unlike packages sent via private carriers, foreign shipments sent through the mail and delivered by the U.S. Postal Service are not required to include advance electronic data, or AED. Customs and Border Protection and other law enforcement agencies use this basic security information to screen for drugs, but they are under-equipped to handle the massive number of international packages that the USPS delivers without AED - over 1.3 million every day. International criminals exploit this.
This loophole has existed for over a decade. I've spent my career working to protect our country, serving under President Obama in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, as the Commonwealth's homeland security advisor, and currently as part of the Homeland Security Project at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Rarely have I seen such a grave and omnipresent threat. With around 115 Americans from all walks of life dying every day from an opioid overdose - many involving fentanyl - it's just unacceptable that this drug pipeline has not been closed. Thankfully, Congress is now recognizing the urgent need to fix this security gap. In early June, committees in the House and Senate released identical versions of the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act, which would require AED on all foreign packages. Aided by the leadership of Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal, an original cosponsor of the STOP Act, the bill readily passed the House with a bipartisan vote of 353-52. This is a promising step, and the Senate now needs to follow suit.
In addition to the STOP Act's bipartisan backing, national organizations such as the American Medical Association, the Fraternal Order of Police and the National Conference of State Legislatures support the bill.
With a common-sense solution to help cut off the drug pipeline in sight, we can't afford to wait. We can't stop fighting when Massachusetts families are succumbing every day to the tragedy of addiction and overdose. We need to act now, for the sake of our families, our communities and our country.
Juliette Kayyem is a former assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security in the Obama administration, served as Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick's homeland security advisor and is CEO of Zemcar. She is a senior advisor to Americans for Securing All Packages, a coalition dedicated to closing the loophole in the global postal system.
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