New tools to stop illegal drugs coming in US mail

Dangerous deliveries of powerful narcotics are being sent through the U.S. mail. Postal inspectors want to keep people from getting hurt.

Inspectors are armed with a new law to stop those illegal and dangerous shipments.

The law was cosponsored by Washington Rep. Suzan DelBene.  And it's aimed directly at China.

One of the biggest drug operations in the Pacific Northwest was stopped by postal inspectors. Incredibly the drugs were coming from China right through the U.S. mail.

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It is how many people have legal prescription drugs delivered. It turns out those making a living in the illegal opioid trade use the postal service to do their dirty work, too. It is the job of the nation's 1,200 postal inspectors to step in and stop it.

"We are the police for the Postal Service," says Postal Inspector John Wiegand.

He says inspectors use a variety of tools including working with Customs Border Protection or CBP, to spot illicit drugs and get them out of the U. S. mail.

"We work closely with CBP as things are coming across the border, coming through our ports of entry, coming through our international mail centers that are in several cities across the country," said Wiegand.

That teamwork has paid off handsomely. Prolific, local opioid dealer Gregory Lynn Smith was linked to 70 different deliveries to his Skyway home. Chopper 7 was overhead as the feds laid out his stash of cash and drugs which had come largely from China through the U.S. mail.

The investigation led to Purr Nightclub on Seattle's Capitol Hill where 29-year-old James D. Wilson overdosed in March 2017, on drugs Smith supplied.

"What's so disturbing about fentanyl is folks don't know that's what they're buying," said Annette Hayes, last November.

Hayes, who was then U.S. Attorney for Western Washington, said the way the drugs are packaged makes it difficult for users and postal inspectors to know they are illegal.

"Often they are processed in the pills that look like prescription drugs," she said then.

Still, postal inspectors are catching at least some of the crooks.

"This past year and now FY 2018 for us, we took approximately 90,000 pounds of illegal drugs out of the postal service," said Wiegand. "That has gone up in the past few years. But some of that has gone up because we're getting better at it."

Now they hope to get better, still. The 8-month-old Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention Act will require that advanced electronic data on all international packages be submitted to customs. It is an effort to prevent the drugs from ever reaching our shores.

"As postal inspectors, our investigative focus is the mail," said Wiegand, "and we will seek out any illicit drugs that are in the mail and get those removed. And we will pursue those cases criminally."

One doesn't have to put opioids into the mail system to get into legal trouble.  Marijuana is fully legal in this and 10 other states. But mailing marijuana even to a state where it is legal is still a federal crime.