WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, the top-ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, today released a report showing that the amount of illicit opioid fentanyl seized by the Department of Homeland Security has increased dramatically, and that the overwhelming majority of fentanyl seizures are occurring at ports of entry.
Ports of entry are official locations where people and goods enter the U.S.—they can include airports, sea ports, and land border crossings. At all these locations, people and goods are inspected by Customs and Border Protection Officers (Port Officers) in order to combat drug trafficking, terrorism, and other threats. Despite the important role that Port Officers play in securing the border, Customs and Border Protection does not employ enough Port Officers to fully staff all ports of entry.
In 2016, approximately 116 people in the United States died every day from an opioid-related drug overdose, amounting to over 42,000 fatalities in a single year. While many addicts still use heroin and over-the-counter opiates, the emergence of fentanyl has rapidly increased the deadliness of the opioid epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examined opioid overdoses in ten states, including Missouri, and found more than half of the deaths attributable to opioid overdoses tested positive for fentanyl. Most cases of fentanyl-related death or overdose are linked to illicitly produced fentanyl, 90% of which is produced in China.
“Illicit fentanyl is now a huge driver in this national public health crisis, and this report shows a staggering increase in products being shipped and smuggled to the United States,” McCaskill said. “There is no silver bullet to solving this influx of opioids, but at the very least we need to ensure that our ports are adequately staffed and equipped to deal with this problem—and right now that’s simply not the case.”
READ THE REPORT: Combating the Opioid Epidemic: Intercepting Illicit Opioids at Ports of Entry
The report’s key findings include:
- The vast majority of all opioids interdicted by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are seized at ports of entry. Between 2013 and 2017, approximately 25,405 pounds, or 88% of all opioids seized by CBP, were seized at ports of entry. Ports of entry located along the southern border are most active as those seizures accounted for 75% of all opioids seized at ports of entry during the same five year period.
- Fentanyl seizures are rapidly increasing. In a single year, the amount of fentanyl seized by CBP more than doubled, from 564 pounds in 2016 to 1,370 pounds in 2017.
- Large shipments of fentanyl entering the United States are seized at the ports of entry on the southern border, while a greater number of small shipments are interdicted in the international mail. Officers at ports of entry on the southern border seized 75% of the total weight of fentanyl seized across all ports of entry between 2016 and 2017. Port Officers at international mail facilities had more than five times as many fentanyl seizures at mail facilities as Port Officers at land ports of entry.
- Both mail and express carrier fentanyl seizures have increased over the past two years. When fentanyl is delivered through the international mail, a greater number of small shipments are sent through the U.S. Postal Service and larger amounts are shipped though express carriers like UPS, DHL, and Fed Ex. Although CBP depends on package data provided by express shippers in order to target packages likely to contain opioids and contraband, this information can be incomplete. While CBP has the authority to issue fines to compel shippers to provide complete data, express shippers have successfully negotiated $26 million in such penalties between 2014 and 2016 down to just $4 million.
The report demonstrates the importance of ensuring ports of entry have the resources they need to intercept illicit opioids. According to CBP, ports of entry across the country have 4,000 Port Officers fewer than the number needed. McCaskill has introduced a bill that would require CBP to hire additional officers at ports of entry to fill these shortages. McCaskill heard firsthand from law enforcement officers about the need for increasing staffing at ports of entry when she toured the U.S.-Mexico border last year.
In her role as the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, McCaskill has prioritized targeting the opioid epidemic. President Trump signed into law a McCaskill-backed bill that arms CBP with additional chemical screening devices to help detect illegal opioids. Last year, McCaskill’s bill to reauthorize the Department of Homeland Security’s program that targets transnational criminal organizations on the border and at U.S. ports in order to combat drug and weapons trafficking and other crimes was approved by the Committee.
McCaskill previously joined Republican Committee Chairman Ron Johnson to request details from the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the United States Postal Service about their efforts to stop illegal drugs from being mailed to the U.S. from China, Hong Kong and other foreign countries. McCaskill targeted opioid shipments from China at a Senate hearing last year.
McCaskill has also targeted the opioid epidemic more broadly and is currently leading the largest Congressional investigation to-date into opioid manufacturers and distributers. She launched the investigation last year, requesting documents from opioid manufacturers and distributers. In September 2017, McCaskill announced the first round of findings, detailing systemic manipulation of the prior authorization process by Insys Therapeutics. McCaskill’s latest report, issued earlier this year, describes how manufacturers of opioids have made significant financial investments into third party organizations—groups which in turn have often engaged in pro-opioid advocacy.