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Chairman Reichert Opening Statement at Hearing on The Opioid Crisis

April 25, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee Chairman Dave Reichert (R-WA) delivered the following opening statement at a hearing on The Opioid Crisis: Stopping the Flow of Synthetic Opioids in the International Mail System.

CLICK HERE to watch the hearing.

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

“Good afternoon.  The Subcommittee will come to order.  Welcome to the Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee hearing on stopping the flow of synthetic opioids in the international mail system.  Before hearing from our witnesses, I’d like to make a few points.   

“In 2016, nearly 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses – nearly doubled from ten years ago.  Of those deaths, approximately 66% involved opioids.

“In my home state of Washington, there has been a 134% increase in opioid-related cases between 2004 and 2016, and opioid-related deaths increased 33%.  To put this in stark and shocking terms, the increase in opioid-related deaths in Washington state exceeds the growth in the state’s population. 

“There has been a sharp rise in the number of deaths involving fentanyl – a cheap, synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and up to 100 times stronger than morphine.  The number of Americans who died from an overdose of a synthetic opioid more than doubled from 2015 to 2016.  Because fentanyl is so potent, it takes only a very small amount to cause a severe or deadly reaction. 

“Fentanyl enters the United States with alarming ease.  It is frequently sold online and then shipped to the United States – typically from China – through express delivery carriers or through the international mail.  Because it’s shipped in such small quantities, it is very difficult to detect. 

“For the last 15 years, Customs and Border Protection, by law, has required private carriers to transmit advance electronic data on shipments entering the United States.  The data typically includes the shipper and recipient name and address, as well as the package contents – all of which help CBP identify high-risk shipments.  

“CBP has exercised its discretion not to impose this data requirement on the Postal Service because the Postal Service operates in a different environment than private carriers.  As a result, international mail shipments arrive in the United States with little information.  This lack of data creates a significant vulnerability that can be easily exploited by drug traffickers.    

“To the credit of CBP and the Postal Service, they’ve established a pilot program to test the effectiveness of acquiring advance electronic data on a small subset of mail shipments.  The pilot itself is an important step – and I commend the agencies for taking it.  But as the pilot has expanded, there are significant concerns about the quality of the data supplied by foreign postal operators and the ability of the Postal Service to physically retrieve the packages that CBP targets. 

“I am eager to hear from our witnesses today about what steps the agencies are taking to improve the pilot program, and whether they believe it has been effective.  I also look forward to hearing about the unique challenges surrounding the Postal Service’s ability to collect and transmit advance electronic data.   

“Finally, I would like to thank CBP and the Postal Service for working closely and cooperatively with our bipartisan Committee staff to craft a legislative solution that would require the transmittal of advance electronic data on all international mail shipments in a way that is effective and achievable, and ensures the agencies are held accountable to Congress. 

“I would also like to thank Rep. Mike Bishop, who is leading the Committee’s efforts on this important issue, together with Reps. Vern Buchanan and Carlos Curbelo; as well as Rep. French Hill for his work to improve the detection of fentanyl by the Postal Service; and Rep. John Faso – who is here with us today to show his commitment to solving this problem.  

“The opioid crisis must be addressed from every angle, and that includes stopping synthetic opioids from entering our country.  We must do more to protect our families and our communities from this deadly substance, and requiring advance electronic data on international mail shipments would help do just that. 

“I will now yield to Ranking Member Pascrell for the purpose of an opening statement.”