It may have been “gaps in the postal system” that put a synthetic opioid into the hands of a St. Clair couple who overdosed and died last month.
The Missourian was contacted by a national organization after a story about the deaths was published Sept. 23.
Juliette Kayyem, senior adviser for Americans for Securing All Packages (ASAP), said the nonprofit organization focuses on the drug epidemic, more specifically, the supply chain and how drugs are coming into the country illegally. One of those ways is through the U.S. Postal System from countries such as China and Russia.
“The gaps in our postal system (is) this loophole that allows things to come into this country without being thoroughly screened,” Kayyem said.
“The loophole is essentially that we require, now under present law, no advanced screening data for packages coming in.”
U-47700, a research chemical, was identified as an ingredient of a synthetic heroin cocktail that authorities suspect killed Sandra “Kay” Creek, 60, and Kenneth W. Creek, 53, at their home in the 200 block of Murray Street, St. Clair, Sept. 19.
Kayyem, a former Massachusetts homeland security adviser, said collecting data to better understand where illegal packages are coming from is difficult.
Drugs like U-47700 may be shipped here from foreign countries and make their way into rural areas.
“We need a much stronger way of monitoring and assessing how bad this particular threat (is),” she said.
“There’s no inventory of opioid deaths nationwide about where the drugs are coming from. How much is prescription, how much is nonprescription, how much is coming from foreign sources? We are just starting to scratch the surface on that problem.”
Under the Trump administration, there is a commission that supports closing this loophole, she said. There are legislative fixes, and education needed first in order to push this forward.
“Our biggest homeland security threat right now is this epidemic. It’s hurting our community in ways that we were unprepared for,” Kayyem said.
She noted that prescription drugs are only a piece of the problem. First responders are dealing with the risk of exposure to synthetic opioid in overdose cases.
“This is an epidemic that is a tragedy, but is also (one) that’s having significant operational impact on our capacity. They’re just overwhelmed,” Kayyem said.
The likelihood of mailed drugs from foreign countries circulating into local communities is limited to where mail is delivered to, she said.
In the end, the way to solve this issue is to have a legislative backing, she said.
“We know that things don’t change in a day, but what we want to begin to see is the U.S. Postal System and Customs and Border Protection set up a system in which we can get advanced data screenings for these packages,” Kayyem said.
After 9/11, security policies were changed on aviation, ships and cargo, but not the postal system, she said.
“We demanded more security because of the vulnerabilities we saw in the supply chain. We just didn’t do the same on postal, just didn’t. And we need to start to,” she said.
The ASAP “is complementary of all the other work being done in communities with public health, criminal justice and addiction and all the things that communities are doing to stop this epidemic,” she said.
Kayyem also served as President Barack Obama’s assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs at the Department of Homeland Security.
Correction: An earlier version of the story had an incorrect statement about the organization.
Americans for Securing All Packages does not lobby, brief members of Congress or advocate on behalf on any specific legislation. The organization is a public awareness coalition working to raise attention to this matter to ensure all packages entering the United States are adequately screened in order to shut down the pipeline allowing illicit opioids and other toxic substances into the U.S.