HAZARD — Opioid drug addiction has lingered at epidemic status in Southeastern Kentucky throughout nearly a generation. Seldom a month passes without arrests being made for trafficking or a local family receiving the tragic news that a loved one has overdosed. One organization is attempting to tackle this issue from a perspective they claim is often overlooked by the general public. Led by the first Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, who was appointed by President George W. Bush and President Obama’s former Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Juliette Kayyem, Americans for Securing All Packages (ASAP) is a bipartisan coalition with a mission of closing what it claims to be a dangerous security gap that leaves our nation vulnerable to terrorist attacks and invites illegal and toxic drugs into our communities. Earlier this week, officials from ASAP reached out to the Hazard Herald to raise awareness for their cause.
“Essentially, we have a system, in which packages from foreign countries are coming to this country without the information that would allow for a detailed understanding of what exactly is coming in,” said Kayyem. “In airport security and other types of security, we have an understanding of what is coming in to this country and how. With the mail system, for a variety of reasons, there was no similar focus on targeted, suspicious packages. So, what we are pushing for is advanced electronic security data, so we would have a way of monitoring what’s coming into this country and who is sending it.”
According to ASAP, every day, almost 1 million packages shipped into the United States from foreign countries go mostly unchecked for dangerous and illegal contents. ASAP blames a security loophole for allowing these packages to enter the country.
“With airline travel and cargo coming to this country,” Kayyem stated. “We know what it is, but with the postal system, we didn’t do that. So, now, we’re realizing this is a big loophole that can be closed because it is a technological fix, and we really need to fix it right now because of the drug epidemic.”
ASAP’s concern is that this loophole allows illegal drugs, counterfeit goods and other unsafe packages to make their way into American neighborhoods. An opportunity is created, according to ASAP, that allows traffickers to have online access to illegal drugs like Fentanyl from countries such as China, Russia and India.
ASAP states: Almost 1 million foreign packages enter the U.S. every day without advance electronic security data. Under the Trade Act of 2002, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection should receive advance manifest data on packages entering the U.S., but they currently do not when these packages are shipped via foreign postal services such as China Post, India Post or Russia Post. This data is used by Customs and Border Protection and many other government agencies to target and screen out high risk items. The Air Cargo Advance Screening System (ACAS) took another step to bolster the data program by specifically targeting dangerous goods. While the private sector quickly conformed, foreign posts again have yet to implement these steps.
“This is going to take a legislative fix,” Kayyem said. “We also need to encourage other countries to increase their security measures to protect us. But, having been in this field a long time, I can say that the United States always sets the floor for global security measures. The world follows us. If we ratchet up airline security, so do other countries. So, we have to be the leader in this.”
Since the trafficking Kayyem speaks of is difficult to track, estimates on the amount of drugs entering the country through this method remains unknown. However, it is well known that drugs, especially opioids, have managed to pour into the region at alarming levels. Drugs such as Fentanyl and even heroin, are showing up more and more in trafficking arrests and overdoses. These drugs are coming from somewhere; likely many different locations.
The U.S. Postal Service has expressed the shared goal of making the system secure and preventing illegal materials from entering the country. Throughout the years, the Postal Service has worked to advance security in the rapid technological age. ASAP believes legislation is vital to completely securing the process and encouraging other countries to follow our lead.
Americans for Securing All Packages is registered as a nonprofit entity. Along with Juliette Kayyem, Tom Ridge is also a Senior Advisor. The list of members includes the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies, Coalition of Service Industries, FOA Families of Addicts and Sony Music Group. The complete list of members and more information about ASAP can be found on their website, securepackages.org.
Juliette Kayyem is a Senior Advisor for ASAP.
Sam Neace is a reporter for the Hazard Herald and can be reached at 606-629-3243 or on Twitter @HazardHerald.