Government, News

Better mail monitoring is one part of new federal opioid legislation

CHARLESTON — A measure designed to stop illegal drugs from being shipped into the U.S. is just one of the provisions aimed at the opioid crisis included in the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act that’s getting President Donald Trump’s signature.

Former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, the first-ever secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, described opioids — synthetic opioids specifically — as “weapons of mass destruction.

“This is a chemical weapon and it has been used to destroy and undermine families and bring a lot of destruction and hardship to communities,” Ridge said during a Wednesday conference call ahead of a White House bill signing ceremony that afternoon.

Included in it is the STOP Act which mandates advanced electronic data collections on all international packages, like those delivered through the U.S. Postal Service, with implementation deadlines for the agency, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection.

STOP stands for Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention.

With it, the U.S. Postal Service must provide information on at least 70 percent of international mail shipments before the end of 2018.

By 2020, that requirement extends to all international shipments.

Shipments through the U.S. Postal Service without the information could then be blocked or destroyed.

Some exemptions could be allowed four countries that cannot provide the package information electronically, but have been determined to “pose little risk” or maintain low shipment numbers.

The idea is to block mass shipments of synthetics, like fentanyl, before they make it to the U.S. “to close the loophole that is exploited by drug purveyors and drug users,” Ridge explained.

Speaking with Ridge on Wednesday was Juliette Kayyem, who worked as homeland security official under President Barack Obama.

She said synthetic drugs pose different kinds of threats to the U.S.

“If we want to protect Americans from the things that are harming them, we have to look at systems that are vulnerable,” Kayyem said.

Of the STOP Act, “It really does fit into a larger picture about making sure America’s less vulnerable.”

Overall, provisions in the full bipartisan SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act were included to help states and communities prevent drug use, treat addiction locally and stop the flow of drugs into communities.

Other key components include improved opioid funding for hard-hit states like West Virginia, access to treatment and recovery, communication and information sharing, youth prevention and recovery services and prescription drug monitoring programs.

“We celebrate the bipartisan effort to address in a very significant way this public health epidemic,” Ridge said.

“The next critical phase is implementation and enforcement.”

On Oct. 3, the U.S. Senate gave final approval to the legislation, which combined previous opioid bills from both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House, with a 98-1 vote.

By Shauna Johnson