In just a few years, a nationwide crisis has quickly evolved from a once-ignored health issue into one of the largest epidemics we have ever faced.
For the first time in our history, more Americans are dying from drug overdoses than from car accidents and gun violence, fueled by addictive and deadly opioids. Estimates project opioids could kill more than half a million Americans over the next decade without decisive action.
As a former U.S. secretary of Homeland Security, I'm unable to stay silent as this epidemic sweeps the country. I'm focused on concrete steps we can take to stem the tide of tragedies. First and foremost, we need to ensure that the deadliest drugs stay out of our communities in the first place. That means shutting down a major loophole in the postal system that creates a pipeline for shipping toxic opioids from abroad.
President Donald Trump has declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency - a welcome action as the crisis hits states like Colorado harder than ever. In the Centennial State, the introduction of unbelievably potent synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanil has led to a sharp uptick in fatalities. We see tragic stories occurring far too regularly, from the 19 year old Boulder student killed by cocaine laced with fentanyl, to the two deaths from carfentanil in Eagle County this spring.
These powerful synthetic drugs are largely manufactured abroad, and can easily be mailed by traffickers and criminals into the country thanks to a major postal system security gap.
This loophole allows more than 1 million packages to reach the U.S. every day without important security data that would help law enforcement identify dangerous packages, including those containing deadly drugs. While private carriers provide this data, it is not required for packages sent via foreign postal services, leaving our law enforcement in the dark without critical detection tools. Closing this loophole would bring us one step closer to stopping the influx of drugs from abroad.
Fortunately, lawmakers and other officials are taking notice and acting to protect Coloradans and emergency personnel involved in this crisis. President Trump's Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis recently called for immediate action to stop the flow of deadly drugs into the U.S. through the mail by passing legislation that mandates the use of this important security data, known as advance electronic data.
This legislation, the Synthetics Trafficking & Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act, has gained widespread bipartisan support since its introduction earlier this year. The bill would help close the loophole by requiring that foreign shippers using the postal system provide the same advanced security data as private carriers.
Among the bill's 272 co-sponsors is Colorado's Rep. Scott Tipton, and momentum continues to grow. Federal law enforcement officials agree that, if passed, the STOP Act would help law enforcement screen and stop packages containing illicit and hazardous materials. In fact, the bill was explicitly endorsed by President Trump's opioid commission, along with the American Medical Association and the Fraternal Order of Police.
As a former governor, cabinet secretary and member of Congress, I know firsthand that as public servants we have an obligation to keep the American people safe. We must do all that we can to address this crisis, starting with eliminating the global postal loophole to help cut off the foreign drug pipeline.
We know there isn't one silver bullet to stopping the flow of foreign drugs, but this would give our law enforcement another tool to make a real impact. It's time for our elected officials to make sure all international packages are adequately screened before they arrive on Coloradans' doorsteps. Tackling the crisis from all angles is the only way we will find a solution to this tragic epidemic.
Tom Ridge is a senior advisor to Americans for Securing All Packages, a coalition of health and security experts, businesses, and nonprofits seeking to close a major security gap in the global postal system. After the tragic events of Sept. 11, Ridge became the first assistant to the president for Homeland Security and, on Jan. 24, 2003, became the first secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He also served as governor of Pennsylvania and in the U.S. House of Representatives.