Report: U.S. Postal Service Should Do More To Protect Workers From Opioids

By Mariana Dale
Published: Tuesday, July 3, 2018 - 7:55pm
Updated: Wednesday, July 4, 2018 - 3:55pm

USPS mail flow
U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General
The U.S. Postal Service employs about 644,000 people who handle about 506 pieces of mail a day.

Overseas producers of powerful synthetic opioids are peddling their products online and shipping them to the U.S.

Lawmakers are working to tighten United States Postal Service policy and require it to collect more data about who sends international packages.

At the same time, a report finds the organization could be doing more to protect its workers.

The Inspector General’s Office found while there is general training on handling hazardous materials, less than 1 percent of 644,000 postal employees received specific information on opioids.

These workers sort and send out 506 million pieces of mail a day.

Only the United States Postal Inspection Service received communication on the risks of handling synthetic opioids.

In 2014, there were an estimated 2,376 field workers in the inspection service

Substances like fentanyl are especially dangerous because they’re toxic even if accidentally inhaled or absorbed through the skin in small doses.

The Postal Service contended in the report its existing policies and trainings on how to handle hazardous and suspicious packages are sufficient to handle opioids in the mail.

“The best course of action for our employees is to refrain from opening or unnecessarily handling suspicious packages and follow the Postal Service’s well-established protocol,” the report quotes the USPS’s vice president of labor relations Douglas Tulino.  

These policies includes leaving substances where you find them instead of trying to move or clean them up, clearing people from the area and washing hands and skin exposed to the substance with soap and water.

The Postal Services has given select inspectors overdose medication and plans to deploy it at 705 facilities in the next few months.

The Postal Service declined an interview, but said in a statement it is seizing 880 percent more domestic parcels related to opioids and is working to keep illegal drugs from circulating through the mail.

U.S. Postal Service's full statement:

"The Postal Service, in collaboration with law enforcement and other key stakeholders, is taking aggressive practicable measures every day to stem the flow of illegal drugs from entering the United States.

“From FY2016 through FY2017, the Postal Inspection Service achieved a 375 percent increase in international parcel seizures, and an 880 percent increase in domestic parcel seizures related to opioids. The Postal Service also executed and implemented an agreement with Customs and Border Protection to define responsibilities and leverage shared technological solutions to improve interdiction efforts and enhance global security.

"Additionally, the U.S. government has now issued a directive to members of the Universal Postal Union that will require advance electronic data (AED) on certain expedited shipments that cross the borders through the postal system, even absent legislation.

“The Postal Service has prioritized obtaining AED from the largest volume foreign posts, which collectively account for over 90 percent of inbound volumes, many of which have the capability to provide the information.  In the last three years, without any legislative mandate, we have gone from receiving almost no AED on inbound shipments to achieving current levels at approximately 40 percent, with plans in action to boost that figure significantly by the end of the year.  Contrary to some statements in the media, the AED that the Postal Service has already obtained includes AED on substantial volumes of postal shipments originating in China.

“The Postal Service shares the deep concern of the Congress and the Administration about America's opioid crisis.  As opioid legislation continues to make its way through the Congress, the Postal Service will continue to work collaboratively with other key stakeholders to help keep these dangerous drugs from entering the country.”

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