Parcels on a conveyor belt at the U.S. Postal Service sorting center in Louisville. Drug traffickers use Postal Service reliability as a marketing tool. (Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg News)
Columnist

The U.S. Postal Service likes to boast that it is the nation’s most trusted government agency.

It certainly has the trust of dope dealers.

A report by the Postal Service Office of Inspector General demonstrates just how valuable the mail is as a marketing tool for drug pushers: “For example, a cocaine trafficker claimed to have used the Postal Service to successfully distribute nearly 4,000 shipments, stating that they had a 100 percent delivery success rate. In addition, of the 96 traffickers who indicated they used the Postal Service as their shipping provider, 43 percent (41) offered free, partial, or full reshipment if the package did not arrive to the buyer’s address because it was confiscated, stolen, or lost.”

Using the Internet, inspector general staffers found that out of 104 illicit drug websites identifying a shipper, 92 percent indicated that they use the Postal Service. On the “clear Web” — publicly accessible pages indexed on search engines — 80 percent of the 20 sites they searched that provided guidance on how to ship illicit drugs “instructed traffickers to use the Postal Service,” according to the report.

Can you picture this as a Postal Service advertisement: “USPS — the preferred shipper for almost all drug dealers!”

The report found several reasons, a.k.a. “vulnerabilities in the network,” that dealers prefer using “government resources to perpetuate a crime,” including:

• “The Postal Service is generally prohibited from opening international and domestic mail, including packages.”

• Private carriers and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can inspect packages shipped into the country.

• There is no “distinct penalty” for using the Postal Service to ship illegal drugs.

• There is “a need for the Postal Service to educate employees about the dangers of colluding with drug traffickers.”

Why the employees don’t know that without special education was not explained. Or it might have been, but the redactors must have really been juiced when they reviewed the report because the entire section on the “Risk of Employee Collusion with Drug Traffickers,” even the inspector general’s recommendation, was blacked out with no explanation.

Using the Postal Service also is convenient.

“Drug traffickers in the U.S. can send their packages like any other customer — dropping them in a blue collection box, or presenting them at a post office or through a third-party approved shipper,” the report noted.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (Mo.), the ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, requested the report. “The use of the Postal Service’s network to import and distribute illicit drugs puts the Postal Service, its employees, and the public at risk,” she wrote in a letter asking for the study. She said at a committee hearing last week “that mail facilities have the largest number of individual CBP seizures of opioids.”

The inspector general’s report had seven recommendations, including:

• Congress should authorize the Postal Inspection Service “to open and inspect domestic packages suspected of containing illicit drugs.”

• Congress should approve “separate and enhanced criminal penalties for using the U.S. mail system to distribute illicit drugs.”

• The postmaster general should designate an officer to implement a “unified, comprehensive organizational strategy to combat the role of the postal network in facilitating illicit drug distribution.”

Guy Cottrell, the chief postal inspector, disagreed with all but one of the recommendations, though his response to the one regarding employee collusion also was redacted. His comments, included in the report, said the “discussion of the Postal Service’s current efforts is incomplete, and the report makes certain inaccurate assertions." Inaccurate, he wrote, is the assertion “that the Postal Service lacks a ‘unified, comprehensive organization-wide strategy to combat the flow’ of illegal drugs through the mail."

The Postal Service defended its anti-drug actions in response to questions from this column. “The U.S. Postal Service is deeply concerned about America’s opioid crisis and is working aggressively with law enforcement and key trading partners to stem the flow of illegal drugs entering the United States,” Kim Frum, a spokeswoman for the service, said in a statement. “From FY 2016 through FY 2018, the Postal Inspection Service achieved a 1000 percent increase in international parcel seizures, and a 750 percent increase in domestic parcel seizures related to opioids.”

Yet the Postal Service’s reliability makes it an integral element in the nation’s growing and lethal drug problem. Deaths from synthetic opioids jumped 525 percent from 2013 to 2016. That doesn’t include methadone, which registered a slight decline in deaths. Postal workers handling the toxins also are at risk. Far less important than the deaths, but of concern to postal officials, is the effect on image.

“The presence of packages containing illicit drugs in the mailstream puts Postal Service employees in harm’s way and jeopardizes its brand,” the report said. “Every story about drugs being shipped through the postal network erodes the public’s trust in the postal system.”

I guess that includes this one.

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