WASHINGTON — Hundreds of millions of dollars worth of fentanyl — and likely more — is pouring into the United States through international mail — and the federal government isn’t equipped to track it or prevent it from happening, according to a nearly yearlong bipartisan Senate investigation.

The 100-page report, released Wednesday from Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) and conducted by the Senate’s permanent subcommittee on investigations, looked at just six online sellers offering fentanyl — the powerful opioid implicated in a growing number of overdose deaths. Five are based in China; investigators could not confirm the location of the sixth.

Unlock this article by subscribing to STAT Plus and enjoy your first 30 days free!

GET STARTED

What is it?

STAT Plus is STAT's premium subscription service for in-depth biotech, pharma, policy, and life science coverage and analysis. Our award-winning team covers news on Wall Street, policy developments in Washington, early science breakthroughs and clinical trial results, and health care disruption in Silicon Valley and beyond.

What's included?

  • Daily reporting and analysis
  • The most comprehensive industry coverage from a powerhouse team of reporters
  • Subscriber-only newsletters
  • Daily newsletters to brief you on the most important industry news of the day
  • Online intelligence briefings
  • Frequent opportunities to engage with veteran beat reporters and industry experts
  • Exclusive industry events
  • Premium access to subscriber-only networking events around the country
  • The best reporters in the industry
  • The most trusted and well-connected newsroom in the health care industry
  • And much more
  • Exclusive interviews with industry leaders, profiles, and premium tools, like our CRISPR Trackr.
  • “An act of war”

    What do you call having U. S. war ships at China’s door?
    Or U. S. sanctioning them?
    Or the U. S. Threatening China over islands in the China Sea?

    How about the U. S. paying China in tungsten filled gold bars?

    The U. S. can do anything it wants worldwide, and it’s as if nothing, but other nations can’t reciprocate?

  • Why do we automatically assume a STATE (China) is doing this and citizens who are receiving/using these products? Is it not possible that Citizens are supplying other citizens? Who are the bad guys? the suppliers in China, the resellers in the US, or the users who get damaged? Don’t make this out to be a STATE problem!

  • Irony here is key to understand that a majority of east coast american wealth was created via the 19th century opium trade in China. (the british royal family had an opium tax on all opium produced in India) A pound of opium cost a pound of silver. It took about 40 years to bankrupt and impoverish China. Everyone from port and customs officials through society and up into the noble ruling classes were addicted. Chinese have long memories and though the money from Faint y’all must be tremendous, the irony is sublime.

  • the government is genius, make heroin illegal, sell heroin, bust the people for doing heroin and put them into the legal system, provide treatment at astronomical prices with government grants to the licensed dealers/healers. lol idiots americans

  • Hi to answer the question of what Portugal does & neighboring countries adopted. They lifted prohibition on all drugs u are allowed a small amount for your own recreational use anything over they give u a rehab card where u get clean needles & clean heroin monitored as a result no deaths in their country. The UK had that program along time ago it worked well. . They need to make these drug addicts work after awhile because too much tax payer money goes for addicts. They are not a rich country. But if we legalized drugs & we already pay astronomical amount in allotted money it could work. 80 billion for DEA,Law enforcement, could go for rehab,only 15% is given now plus we allotted 81 billion more between 2015 & now!!!! Make more facilities affordable! Get the Mega greed out of the Rehab manufactured drugs & clinics! Reinstate opiods as the medicine it is legal prescription , stop arresting people kill the incentive to go the black market period just regulate the drugs & tax them!

    • Yes, rationally engaging the problem. All the opioids are basically cheap at base cost. Eliminate the rehab crooks, I agree. Here in Canada they have been partially limited.

    • I agree 100%. But it will never happen because it would decrease the size of the government tit. It’s all about money. They don’t care about anyone getting help. All we have to do is look back to prohibition and what it did to help organized crime. What’s going on right now is McCarthyism.

  • When is the double dealing U.S. government going to get a clue that these drug Abusers & Addicts are going to get their drugs no matter who or what they have to go thru. The CIA DEALS HEROINE TO THE US, THE DEA IS ORGANIZED CRIME & PARASITES reselling on black market. Much easier for them to go after pharmacies innocent doctors , than actually earn a living. War on drugs was never real(created for grant money etc & pure greed) & they failed for 45 years. Meanwhile their is a mass Genocide of legitimate patients whom need real medicine & because of greed they r all dying. Just follow the lead of countres like Portugal & many others, no one will die. Prohibition lifted no one pushing dirty drugs for profit ( no money no incentive! Listen to LEAP Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) interesting how major whistle blowers can come up with a solution like when the CIA brought Cocain to America!!! Inspiration the dirty Rehab industry hand over fist money, everyone in bed with the drug money, the cartels, Bankers, CEOs manufacturers of suboxene Naloxon etc.& our own government. Our government never wants drugs legalized because too much money in it!!!

    • There is a multifaceted balance between addict population, costs to the addict, death rate and societal costs.
      Cheap available drugs of all types will lead to an increase in addicts – who can get and consume whatever they need. This will turn to higher death rates as the cost of available drugs.
      Eliminate all dealers with free drugs will lead to a steady state death rate – say 75% of kids try drugs like heroin and fentanyl = 25% get addicted and eventually die of it or are a permanent drain on society.

      How is this playing out in Portugal? Do they tolerate some traffic, but impose a ceiling?

      Or we could do a random test and kill. Test people at random, kill those with Fentanyl in their blood. Harsh as it seems, it may reduce deaths as new addicts decline.
      It seems as if this harsh process in the Phillipines has dramatically lowered drug deaths – except among traffickers…

  • The simple truth behind this is the fact that 2-3 grams of pure fentanyl painted on a card with a little water and dried will fit in a standard business envelope and be virtually non detectable. It can also be sent as powder in plastic bags?? Since a dose is 1/3 of a milligram of pure drug this is 6000-9000 doses. This traffic is made of many of these small letters, that look like simple mail. Detection? Put the mail in standard cartons, then heat them with – I would suggest an in-line microwave oven, mounted to heat all envelopes with some sort of detector, mass spec or trained dog/rat etc sample the air they give off when a 5 pound vacuum is drawn on a box of letters. This will ID one box, and all those letters can be sniffed in detail. Frequency of the microwave? Some lab tests will show what frequency excites Fentantyl to give off fumes. This sort of setup needs to be tested first to determine if it is practical. The boxes can also be screen for any metal shielding, like aluminium foil, which is easily detectable by a radar like microwave beam of another frequency. I think a determined experimental RF lab would be able to find some sort of method??
    Of course, the smugglers will engage in counter methods, once a method is found to catch the smuggled drugs.

    It can be used on many other drugs as well,.

    • William Jackson. You have no idea what you speak of. The Portugal governkent legalizing heroin and illicit drug use for personal use and not for monetary gain, has reduced all crime related to drugs, and has also put drug addicts in touch with medical staff that are able to minimize death. Here in the USA the government wants the drugs to come in and to put it on main media because all the sentators and congressmen get money of which they skim and pocket. They are all crooks from DEA to CIA to local law enforcement. Yes there are probably .002 percent of law enforcement that have heart and care and do it for the justice reason, but the other 99.998 percent are in it to make money.
      If the USA adopted the same guidelines as Amsterdam and Portugal this issue would be no more. No more black market and cost of illegal drugs would go way down putting drug dealers (all of them) out of business. Why is it the government’s business if I want to use drugs? If I want to cut my arm off and I am over 21 why can’t I do this? They don’t own my body, I do. So as far as I see it, the USA goverment was built upon laws set forth in our constitution, which allows freedom of speech and freedom to do what I want inside my own home. More and more police are overstepping boundaries and the courts allowing judges to be oblivious to what justice means. Justice is supposed to be blind and therefore judges not rule because they hate drug addicts, but rule by guidelines of what the law states. They negate this and do as they please. This is not a free country it is becoming more and more communist country.
      The USPS has no probable cause to open mail or subject it to analysis because it comes from China, so if I get mail from Russia it means it contains national defense insider information??? It is ridiculous to even allow the us government to prosecute anything such as this. But they do and the courts allow this. It is ridiculous. The USA should adopt the same laws and programs as Portugal and allow USA citizen adults to do as they please within their own homes. Legalize the drugs and set a limit of personal use and then package the drugs in sealed contamination proof packaging so that no other human comes in contact with substance and let it through.
      The other way doesn’t work. The definition of insanity is: trying the same thing over and over and over then expecting different results!
      Our government is spending multi billions of tax payers money to fight a lost battle. They will never win. Not ever. They need to accept this and legalize adults use of whatever they want. They pulled decongestant used to make meth amphetamine off pharmacy shelves and limited each us citizen to so many pills per month. So what did the manufacturers do, they went to Mexico and get the same chemical from China and Canada and then they make thousands of tons of this stuff and make the Mexican cartels rich. The USA goverment did nothing but make cartels richer. The drugs are easier and more prevalent then when decongestant was legal to buy without and ID.
      So tell us all how any of this retarder thinking by our government has made any change or difference? San Franciso has now the most potent and easy to obtain meth amphetamine, as well as every other major city in the country. Why? Because the us government tried to make it tough for little Mrs Jones to get her decongestant.
      It’s all perfect proof that USA agencies have no foothold on anything. What they do leads to more cost of drugs and then they become easier to get. It will change for a year and then go back to what it was.
      Your microwave idea lovely. What about little Nellie’s hearing aids???
      Hear what I wrote. I don’t do drugs, but I do understand how it all works. It would be more lucrative for the USA taxpayers to organize all illicit level 1 drugs and stop pestering the doctors and pharmacists that prescribe level 2 narcotics. Take that money and use it to offer treatment facilities at Lowe’s costs. The USA government is controlling majority of drugs on black market. So legalize it and we stop the pigs from benefiting from their illegal activities.

    • Anonymous, you are so correct on everything you said. I have had the same thought process for years. The US goverment knows legalization would be the best option. But all the funding is wanted and the countless jobs to fight this crisis can be kept in our goverment. They simply don’t care about how to fix the problem, just how to keep the money and federal jobs flowing.

  • Buried deep in this report is a clue to a solution. “Might require” better funding for USPS and Customs and Border Protection. You think? Like that is going to happen. USPS has been underfunded for years.

  • When will the USA get a clue that these governments that let drugs come into our country are not our allies, but to the contrary are enemies. China, Mexico, India, and other countries that do nothing to help us with traffickers , BUT are more than willing to take our money and jobs are our enemies and need to be treated as such

    • President Donald Trump has promised that his border wall will stop the illegal drugs flooding into the United States from Mexico. But increasingly the most powerful opioids destroying lives and devastating communities from Maine to Texas are arriving through a different route: from China. Via the US Postal Service

Comments are closed.

A roundup of STAT’s top stories of the day in science and medicine

Privacy Policy