JFK Customs implements STOP Act to stop opioids sent through international mail

Photo by Jeff Yapalater


JFK U.S. Customs Border Protection and USPS are in the forefront of sophisticated operations to fight the import of illegal drugs.

The Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act requires that all mail sent from foreign countries through the U.S. Postal Service must provide “package level detail information” to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. This reduces the degree of dangerous synthetic opioid drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil from being shipped through the country’s borders to drug traffickers here in the United States.

The act intends to ensure that merchandise arriving through the mail shall be subject to review by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and to require the provision of advance electronic information on shipments of mail to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and for other purposes.

The JFK post office is the largest facility handling international mail in the US. Port Director Frank Russo is in charge of making sure that the information collected by the USPS is received before the shipment reaches JFK Airport so steps can be take to review arriving mail parcels. According to Port Director Frank Russo, fentanyl is a drug produced in a laboratory and can be manufactured inexpensively overseas then sold here in the U.S. for incredible sums of profit. He says that the major problem is that it is extremely dangerous like heroin with overdoses occurring regularly leading to death. Just three pure sand like grains of fentanyl can kill someone, hence the urgency to stop as much as possible before entering U.S. homes. Opioids in the U.S. are generally sold under brand names such as Vicodin, MS Contin, Kadian, Oxycontin, Percoset, Dilaidid and Duragesic; they are normally legally prescribed and purchase in the U.S. for pain relief.

Hundreds of thousands of small parcels generally pass through the USPS JFK facility from international origins with dangerous goods with opioids and MDMA, aka ecstasy, being top offenders. The USPS facility at JFK is an enormous place with handling of goods daily. With the STOP Act in effect, an untold large number of these packages are to be reviewed in several ways to determine contents and intercept.

Because these parcels are not cargo, they did not get under the same scrutiny as the larger parcels, which can contain more bulk that is necessary to make a profit. Russo says that just an ounce of fentanyl can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Parcel manifests are created overseas hours before a shipment leaves the country. Inspectors here in the U.S. have advance notice of suspected packages and are able to prepare to intercept, inspect and either quarantine, or work with sister agencies to follow a suspected shipment to the delivery address in hopes of finding an illegal delivery. In addition, historical tracking data of origin shipping is being used. Officers look at shipping labels, country of origin, delivery addresses, type of parcels and overseas sources which contribute to intel gathering.

But with manifests that are detailing contents, this makes the Customs job a bit easier to identify. This law alone is not the only way that Customs is detecting drugs – they have canines that are working warehouses and sniffing out illegal substances. Russo says that these CBP dogs are trained to detect different drugs and can be dispatched to cover a large area in a short period of time.

The Trade Act of 2002 required private shippers such as FedEx or UPS to gather advance electronic data on most shipments. However, the U.S. Postal Service’s participation was made optional. None of the three people to serve as Postmaster General since have opted the USPS in. Now with the passage of the act, the USPS must enact these provisions and report manifest information to the CBP.

The USPS is to transmit advance electronic data (AED) to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on at least 70 percent of international packages by Dec. 31, 2018, and 100 percent of international packages by Dec. 31, 2020. The data will enable CBP to target high-risk shipments for inspection and seizure. The bill would require USPS to refuse shipments for which AED is not furnished after Dec. 31, 2020, or to take remedial measures, including law enforcement actions, to ensure compliance.

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