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Close postal loophole that fuels opioid epidemic

A recent report identified China as the primary source for illicit fentanyl in the United States, and the postal loophole provides an easy way to smuggle them into our country.

We lose 10 people to drug overdoses every day in Pennsylvania, a number that's almost too shocking to believe. To put it into perspective, we are now losing more people to the opioid epidemic than from firearms or car crashes – combined.

When I was governor, and later at Homeland Security, the safety and security of our state and our nation was always my top priority. That hasn't changed. Which is why I feel strongly that we need to use every tool in our arsenal to combat this epidemic that is ravaging our largest cities and smallest communities. But at this very moment there is a very real, very significant aspect of the crisis that has gone troublingly unaddressed. A loophole in the global postal system provides a pipeline for the deadliest illegal opioids, right to our doorsteps across Pennsylvania.

Every day, almost one million packages arrive in the United States without critical security data that would help law enforcement screen and stop dangerous material, including harmful, synthetic drugs. Adding this data would not be a complicated process. In fact, private carriers already provide this data. But when a package is sent through the global postal system, law enforcement is left in the dark.

The most powerful synthetic opioids are manufactured abroad. A recent report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission identified China as the primary source for illicit fentanyl in the United States. And the postal loophole provides an easy way to smuggle them into our country.

These smuggled drugs are fueling the rapidly growing epidemic, and there are few communities that haven't felt the impact. In 2015, more than 3,500 people died in Pennsylvania from overdoses, up 30 percent from 2014. Last year, Philadelphia suffered 900 fatal overdoses – three times the city's murder rate. It endangers our police and first responder community as well. While making drug busts, officers across the country have been hospitalized, and the Drug Enforcement Administration has even issued a special warning on fentanyl's toxicity to law enforcement.

Thankfully, this crisis has spurred bipartisanship in both Pennsylvania and Washington.

In February, members of Congress from both parties introduced the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act, which would require vital security data on all packages shipped by mail from abroad. It has support from across the political spectrum and in our state. Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R.), Ryan Costello (R.), Lloyd Smucker (R.), and Brendan Boyle (D.) are co-sponsors of the bill in the U.S. House, while Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale (D.) has announced his support of the bill. As a candidate, President Trump promised to close the loophole. And Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly agreed in a recent Senate hearing that the STOP Act would help law enforcement keep dangerous drugs out.

That's why I'm working with Americans for Securing All Packages, a coalition of families, health-care advocates, security experts, businesses, and nonprofits who all agree that we need to close this postal loophole.

There is no one solution to the opioid crisis. But to make any real impact, our elected officials must focus not only on treatment and prevention, but also on cutting the deadliest drugs off at their source. Closing the global postal loophole is a bipartisan, commonsense place to start. With 10 Pennsylvanians lost every day, we can't afford to wait any longer.

Tom Ridge, a senior adviser to Americans for Securing All Packages, was a governor of Pennsylvania and the first U.S. secretary of Homeland Security.  @RidgeGlobal.