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SALT LAKE CITY — Drug traffickers often use the post office and private shipping companies to send opioids, including fentanyl, to people across the country.
Now, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., have introduced a bill to curtail the circulation of illicit drugs through the mail.
The bipartisan legislation introduced Thursday would require the U.S. Postal Service to develop a comprehensive plan to combat the use of the mail in illicit drug distribution, identify areas for improvement, enhance coordination across departments and proactively meet new challenges.
“After finding that the U.S. Postal Service does not have in place an overarching strategy to combat illicit drug distribution, we are introducing legislation that will fix that and help USPS be proactive and accountable in reducing the distribution of opioids,” Romney said in a news release.
Noting Utah has a higher opioid death rate than the national average and that rural counties are disproportionately harmed, Romney said there must be a multifront approach to stop the flow of illegal drugs into neighborhoods.
More than 98,000 people nationwide died of synthetic opioid-related overdoses, the majority of them related to fentanyl consumption, from 2013 to 2018. Nearly 6,000 Utahns died from opioid overdoses from 2001 to 2018.
Those deaths tragically included two 13-year-old Park City boys, best friends, who died within 48 hours of each other in 2016. The deaths were attributed to a drug ordered from China and shipped to the U.S. called U-47700, known by its more common street name of “pink.”
More recently, federal and local officials have worked together to investigate other cases involving drugs being shipped to Utah using regular mail delivery services.
On Nov. 25, Dylan Keller Benson, 29, of Cottonwood Heights, was charged in 3rd District Court with drug distribution, a second-degree felony, and drug possession, a class B misdemeanor, after prosecutors say he received methamphetamine in the mail.
According to an arrest affidavit, agents from Homeland Security were contacted after a package was intercepted by Customs and Border Protection. The package, sent from the United Kingdom to Cottonwood Heights, was intercepted at the Los Angeles Airport, the affidavit states.
Undercover agents then continued the delivery of the package and arrested Benson when he went to the post office in Cottonwood Heights to pick it up, according to the affidavit.
Homeland Security agents were investigating a similar case in October in Park City, according to a search warrant affidavit. In that case, Customs and Border Protection again detected a suspicious package using UK Royal Mail Service, the warrant states.
“During the investigation, CBP utilized their border search authority to inspect the suspicious package that was labeled ‘PSP Game.’ While examining the contents inside the package, CBP officers located approximately 125 pink pills that tested positive for ecstasy,” according to the warrant.
The package was being shipped to a residence in Park City. Formal charges were still pending as of Thursday.
“We must fight the opioid crisis on all fronts, which includes stopping drug traffickers from exploiting our Postal Service to distribute deadly narcotics into our communities,” Peters said in a statement Thursday. “This commonsense bill would ensure that the Postal Service does everything it can to help address this epidemic and stay one step ahead of drug traffickers as the opioid threat continues to evolve.”
The U.S. Postal Service Opioid & Illicit Drug Strategy Act would mandate that the plan be updated every two years to address new illicit drug threats and emerging trends. The postal service would be required to submit the strategy to Congress and to the Office of National Drug Control Policy and provide annual briefings on its efforts.
Daniel Heins, United Postmasters and Managers of America president, said the bill is a smart step in the right direction.
“To the extent criminals can use the mail to improperly distribute these dangerous substances is something all of us should be seriously working to prevent,” he said.