252 bipartisan House cosponsors, more than for almost any other bill in recent memory, endorse the STOP Act, which aims to halt opioids like fentanyl from coming into America from other countries.
Opioid deaths from overdoses on products such as fentanyl have surged in recent years, with fatalities last year eclipsing the peak year of deaths for car crashes, guns, or AIDS. President Trump in October declared the opioid epidemic an official “public health emergency,” one level below the highest declaration of “national emergency.”
Much of the product arrives in the U.S. through the mail from other nations, primarily China although Mexico and Canada are other large sources.
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.
USPS is considered quasi-governmental: it receives no regular congressional appropriations of taxpayer dollars for operating expenses, and recoups all costs via stamps and other sales. In short, if this bill passed, USPS would probably have to charge more, which might be why they’ve never opted in.
What the bill does
The Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act would require 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.
The bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-OH12) as H.R. 1057, and in the Senate by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) as S. 372. (Tiberi resigned from Congress in January to lead the organization Ohio Business Roundtable, but the bill he previously introduced is still considered active.)
What supporters say
Supporters argue the bill would help halt one of the most deadly public health scourges America has seen in recent decades, and brings the public sector requirement in line with the already-existing private sector requirement for mail and packages.
“My home state of Ohio is a top destination for synthetic drugs that are smuggled across our borders through the mail from countries like China,” House lead sponsor Tiberi said in a press release. “We must keep these drugs, which are so potent a dose the size of a snowflake can kill, from hitting our communities by closing this loophole in the U.S. postal system.”
“We have a heroin and prescription drug epidemic in our country, and this crisis is being made worse by an influx of deadly synthetic drugs coming into our states from places like China and India,” agreed Senate lead sponsor Portman in a separate press release. “Drug-traffickers are lacing heroin with fentanyl and other synthetics that are up to 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more powerful than morphine… The STOP Act is designed to help stop these deadly drugs from reaching our communities, which will help save lives around the country.”
What opponents say
Opponents call the bill impractical, say it would increase costs, and worry it could cause other nations to block mail sent from the U.S.
“Compliance with the STOP Act would require the suppression of inbound mail to the United States. The Postal Service would be compelled to refuse to accept mail from many countries,” USPS Vice President of Network Operations Management Robert Cintron warned in Senate testimony. “The blocking of inbound mail destined for the United States could also lead other countries to block outbound mail originating in the United States.”
He also pointed out the costs and fees associated with the measure.
“The STOP Act would also impose enormous new costs upon the Postal Service — costs of approximately $1.2 to $4.8 billion over ten years have been estimated based on our understanding of the current language,” Cintron continued. “Notably, the Postal Service would immediately have to pay a new customs fee on most inbound mail items (except small letters and large-value dutiable items), but, under current international law, the Postal Service would be unable to charge most customers to recoup that cost.”
Odds of passage
The House bill has attracted 252 bipartisan cosponsors: 169 Republicans and 83 Democrats. That’s more than half the members in the House, a virtually unheard-of sum.
The Senate version has attracted 29 bipartisan cosponsors: 17 Republicans and 12 Democrats or Democratic-affiliated independents. While cosponsors represent a smaller proportion of the Senate than the House, it’s still a sizable number.
Previous versions of the legislation from 2016 in the House and in the Senatenever received a vote. However, those versions both attracted far fewer cosponsors: 19 in the House and six in the Senate. Also, the opioid crisis has escalated dramatically just since then, with record highs for opioid-related overdoses being set last year.
The current version of the legislation await possible votes in the House Oversight and Government Reform, House Ways and Means, and Senate Finance Committees.