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Tom Ridge wants USPS to improve screening for opioids in overseas shipments

| Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017, 5:48 p.m.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge addresses the audience on the topic of cybersecurity during a daylong conference at Carnegie Mellon University on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, to discuss better coordinating the city’s role in fighting computer crimes on a national and international scale.
Submitted | Pine Creek Journal
Tom Ridge

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, the nation's first Homeland Security secretary, is calling on the federal government to eliminate a loophole that he says has created a pipeline for opioids to be shipped illegally to the United States.

“I'm beyond surprised that they wouldn't take a more aggressive approach to this,” said Ridge, a senior adviser for the Washington-based nonprofit Americans for Securing All Packages.

Some of the most dangerous synthetic opioids flooding American communities — including the elephant tranquilizer carfentanil, which authorities recently linked to two overdose deaths in Beaver County — are being made in foreign laboratories in China and elsewhere.

It's unknown where the deadly drugs in the Beaver County cases originated. Beaver County District Attorney David Lozier, who is overseeing an investigation, did not return a message.

Americans for Securing All Packages supporters include UPS and FedEx, private companies that Ridge said already adhere to more stringent regulations such as including advance electronic security data with U.S.-bound packages from abroad. The information — required to be provided under a 2002 law — serves as a shipping manifest of sorts and includes the shipper and recipient names and addresses, a general description of the package's contents, its weight and how many pieces it contains.

Authorities can then “use algorithms to more effectively target high-risk packages and stop dangerous items before they get to the country,” Ridge said.

“The private sector, working with law enforcement, successfully implemented an advanced electronic security data system more than 15 years ago, and the same should be expected of a government agency who handles the bulk of all packages being brought into the United States,” said UPS spokeswoman Kara Ross.

Ridge said the U.S. Postal Service and foreign postal services haven't followed suit in providing the advance data, nor were they required to do so under the 2002 law. As a result, about 340 million packages pour into the United States annually without any of the advance data — far too many for U.S. authorities to physically screen.

A Postal Service spokesman did not return a message.

Ridge said he is optimistic that lawmakers in Washington will soon introduce legislation to change that. Related bills proposed last fall in the House and Senate went nowhere. U.S. Reps. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley, and Mike Kelly, R-Butler, of Western Pennsylvania co-sponsored the House version.

“The opioid crisis is tearing apart the fabric of our communities and our families. With this bill, we can strengthen postal security against drug traffickers and safeguard more people from these dangerous drugs,” Kelly said in a statement. He again intends to be a co-sponsor of the bill when it is reintroduced.

Tom Fontaine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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