At Homeland Security Committee Hearing, DHS Secretary Nielsen Reconfirms Support for STOP Act to Combat Opioid Crisis
WASHINGTON, D.C. – During questioning from U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) at a Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee hearing this afternoon, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen reconfirmed her support for Portman’s bipartisan Synthetics Trafficking & Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act. The bipartisan measure will help to stop dangerous synthetic drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil from being shipped through our borders to drug traffickers here in the United States. Nielsen had previously outlined her support for the bill last November.
An excerpt of Portman’s questioning can be found below and a video can be found here.
Portman: “Secretary Nielsen, thank you for being here today and for being here at a critical time. In my state of Ohio we’ve had epidemic levels of opioid addiction and overdoses and deaths, starting with prescription drugs and heroin. Now it’s this synthetic heroin and synthetic opioids including fentanyl, carfentinal, and others. It’s now the big problem, we had 60 percent of the people who died from an overdose in Ohio last year, our worst year ever, died because of fentanyl. Locally in Columbus, Ohio, they just issued a report from Franklin County that said two-thirds of their overdose deaths were attributable to fentanyl. It’s coming in through the US mail system primarily. That’s what all the experts say, including testimony in front of this committee and our Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
“Our own United States mail system is providing the conduit for this poison. It’s not coming over land from Mexico as heroin was, at least the vast majority of it is not. Most of it is coming from China, we know where it’s coming from, we know how it’s coming, and we know that the Post Office, unbelievably, does not require the same information on packages as other private carriers have to in order for law enforcement to identify those packages. The Post Office has about 900 million packages a year, by far the most more than FedEx, UPS, and DHL combined. Again, those private carriers have to give law enforcement, including your good folks at Customs and Border Protection, the information so they can then find these packages that are suspect and know where it’s from, where it’s going, and what’s in it.
“Senator Carper and I conducted a yearlong investigation into this issue through the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. We were able, by using some undercover folks from your department – thank you for lending them to us – to find out some really shocking news which was that people were selling this stuff online, not worrying about the enforcement side and saying ‘if you send it through the post office it’s guaranteed, if you send it through a private carrier, it’s not.’ Bottom line is, in this authorization legislation we have some good things with helping in regard to working with the Chinese government through information sharing, but the central issue here, the real gap in our defenses with this drug coming in, is the delivery method.
“I hope you’ll work with us. What your people will tell you is, it’s like finding a needle in a haystack if you don’t have this information. If you have it at least you have a fighting chance of both stopping some of this poison from coming in – that is the most powerful and potent drug ever, 50 times more powerful than heroin – but also, increasing the price of the drug just by reducing some of that supply. One of our problems right now, in my state and others, is the fact that not only is this readily available, it’s relatively inexpensive.
“You’re aware about the legislation, we’ve talked about it, the STOP Act. You’re aware of the fact that we are trying very hard to get this through the process right now. My question to you would be, are you willing to help us get this done, and, in particular, we’ve heard rumors, that the House may have something that is a watered down version. They, by the way, have 270 cosponsors of our bill, and yet the committee there, the Ways & Means Committee, apparently is talking about giving the Post Office more time to do this, not having a requirement ultimately because there would be no penalties associated with it. I guess I would ask you, are you willing to work with us and stick with us to ensure that we can require the Post Office to provide this information to your law enforcement folks so that we can stop more of this deadly poison from coming in?”
Honorable Kirstjen Nielsen, Secretary of Department of Homeland Security: “Yes, absolutely you have my commitment. I know, you have that of Commissioner McAleenan as well.”
Portman: “The Commissioner has been great as acting and now as Commissioner, we appreciate it. I thank you, we want to work with you on it.”