Many reasons have been offered for tightening our borders. One is to reduce the flow of illegal drugsincluding the opioids fueling the America's addiction crisis. But we found one method of trafficking drugs is shipping them, in plain sight.. through the US Postal Service.
Joce Sterman from our digital partner Circa has our report.
Joce Sterman: Across the country, the war on drugs is getting tough talk.
Sheriff Peyton Grinnell: "To the dealers, I say enjoy looking over your shoulder, constantly wondering, if today is the day we come for you".
Joce Sterman: At all levels a crackdown to stop, or control, the country's addiction to opioids. And the suppliers who fuel it.
Gary Tuggle: We still need to be laser focused on dismantling them or severely disrupting them.
Joce Sterman: Gary Tuggle has been fighting the drug dealers for more than 20 years. Now he's the special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Philadelphia field office. His main focus: stopping the rising abuse of synthetic opiates, like fentanyl and carfentanil.
Gary Tuggle: This stuff will kill you in micrograms. What would be the equivalent of grains of salt could cause you to die.
Joce Sterman: Is this something I can readily find?
Gary Tuggle: Absolutely. It absolutely is. We've drummed up an increased focus on going after these groups on the internet that are trafficking in fentanyl.
Joce Sterman: It's an international effort for the DEA, these dangerous drugs are manufactured and shipped to the U.S. from overseas from countries like China, India and Mexico. The shipments are mixed in among the millions of packages that arrive on our shores every day and the narcotic distributors have found an easy method of entry.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar: Believe it or not they just use the good ole postal service.
Joce Sterman: Minnesota Democrat Senator Amy Klobuchar says foreign distributors are capitalizing on a loophole that makes it easier for illicit drugs to evade detection when they're sent to the states.
Sen. Klobuchar: These dealers see an opening and they go for it and we are the ones that have to be as sophisticated as they are. That means putting tracking information on the packages.
Joce Sterman: Electronic tracking information that details exactly where packages came from, who shipped them, and other specific identifiers, is something that's required for foreign packages handled by private carriers like Fedex and UPS. It's been the law for them since 2002. More than a decade and a half later though, no one's closed the loop on the postal service. So packages shipped in the U.S. Mail are harder for U.S. Customs and Border Protection to red flag.
Joce Sterman: What do you think is the true cost of not getting this advance data on these packages?
Sen. Klobuchar: Well the true cost is first of all of the obvious cost of life. Fifty people a day dying from overdoses. The other cost will be the cost of law enforcement having to go after it, their major investigations. Why not stop it before it gets on our shores? And you do that by helping customs with tracking.
Joce Sterman: Klobuchar is co-sponsor of a bill that would require the same advanced tracking data for all shipments from foreign countries that use our postal system. It has bipartisan support and the backing of the president who highlighted this issue during his campaign.
Donald Trump: We will close the shipping loopholes that china and others are exploiting to send dangerous drugs across our borders in the hands of our own postal service. A Trump Administration will crack down on this abuse and give law enforcement the tools they need to accomplish this mission.
Joce Sterman: In a statement, the U.S. Postal Service said it does get data on a substantial number of packages but that they're committed to increasing the amount. They pointed to new regulations that went into effect this year that enhance their ability. As well as a screening pilot program that's in the works.
Gov. Tom Ridge: They've been aware of it but now they're getting a little pressure to do something about it.
Joce Sterman: Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge is backing the efforts. He's a paid advocate but is quick to dismiss critics saying the cause didn't get the attention it needed until he starting working with 'Americans For Securing All Packages' and pushing their plan aggressively.
Gov. Tom Ridge: It's a weapon of mass destruction, more and more people getting killed every day. We're not saying to any and all people, this is the answer. We're saying this is a huge, huge loophole. It's a gateway for these illicit drugs and let's narrow that ability to get these drugs into our communities.
There's hope they can get the STOP act passed before the end of the year. The USPS is already piloting some efforts to stop it. Governor Ridge says there are "diplomatic conversations" about this as well to put some pressure on.