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How Fentanyl Trafficking Packages are Still Getting into the Country

How Fentanyl Trafficking Packages are Still Getting into the Country

Author: Justin Mckibben

Deaths due to drugs like fentanyl and other synthetic opioids continue to rise at a devastating pace in America. Despite the implementation of a special opioid commission to tackle the opioid crisis head-on, and even after the President of the United States issued a public health emergency concerning this ongoing issue, drugs like fentanyl are still finding their way into the country.

So how is it that these dangerous drugs are still getting across our borders?

Mailing Law Loophole

Much of the current flow of fentanyl into America is said to be connected to a major loophole in mail security. As it stands, every day up to one million packages overall get into the US without being screened.

Under the current laws, most international packages must include some general information, such as:

  • Information on the sender
  • The packages destination
  • Contents of the package

These seemingly simple details can, in fact, help authorities track and detect packages containing illicit substances. However, these are not bulletproof methods of detections.

A big part of the problem is a loophole that exists within our current system. According to Alex Wolff, of the bipartisan coalition Americans for Securing All Packages, 

“Due to a loophole in the global postal system, packages sent via private couriers (like UPS or FedEx) are required to have the advance electronic data used by law enforcement to screen and stop dangerous material, while packages shipped via foreign postal services are not.”

Wolff explains that when materials are sent through certain channels from outside the country, they are sent without the necessary security data that law enforcement agencies require in order to screen and stop dangerous packages.

Considering that fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are expected to be produced primarily in China, much of the drug is being shipped through this international loophole right into the United States. Thus, law enforcement is essentially flying blind in their efforts to catch a lot of the drug as it slips into the country.

The STOP Act

In an effort to put an end to this exploitation of the mailing system, the Synthetics Trafficking & Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act was introduced to the Senate and House of Representatives in February of 2017. It is currently listed as H.R. 1057, as introduced by Republican Representative Patrick J. Tiberi of Ohio. This bipartisan and bicameral legislation could be a huge step forward. Sponsors for the bill include:

  • Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman
  • Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson
  • New Hampshire Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte

Each of these officials represents a state that has been hit hard by the opioid crisis. Surprisingly, almost a year later there has been no further action by Congress to pursue this bill.

Still, Alex Wolff remains optimistic that Congress will act soon to push the bill forward. Now the STOP Act also has the support of:

  • The National Council of State Legislators
  • Fraternal Order of Police
  • The American Medical Association

To clarify, there are a few other prominent “STOP” Acts in the past, including:

  • TheSober Truth on Preventing Underage Drinking Act (STOP Act) of 2006

This was America’s first comprehensive legislation on underage drinking.

  • The Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention (STOP) Act of 2017

This was a law for North Carolina aimed at curbing the misuse and abuse of opioids.

Putting a STOP to Fentanyl Shipping

Whether having tracking information on international packages seems like a big deal or not, most experts take it very seriously. According to former assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security Juliette Kayyem, who is a lecturer on international security at the Harvard Kennedy School,

“You have the demand problem, the public health problem of making sure people cannot be addicted, but on the supply-chain issue, one of the loopholes is clearly the postal system,”

True, not very many drug distributors write “fragile fentanyl shipment: Handle with care” on their postage. However, Kayyem says that collecting data from senders, even those who are less likely to be truthful is important for law enforcement to be able to stop drugs like fentanyl from coming into the country. Kayyem states that even if someone from another country is shipping things in and lies about what is in the package, that lie itself becomes a means to get them in the long run.

Should this bill be pushed into action? Is this enough, or should there be a way to impose even more strict regulations on international mailing to put a stop to the exploitation of the mailing system? Is this the best way to curb fentanyl use and overdose?

In the past few years, overdose deaths due to synthetic opioids like fentanyl have skyrocketed. Over 20,145 people died from synthetic opioids other than methadone in 2016. But the opioid crisis isn’t just about preventing the drug from coming into the US. We also need to support effective addiction treatment options. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free now.

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Florida Police Arrest Drug Dealers by the Dozens

Florida Police Arresting Drug Dealers by the Dozens

Author: Justin Mckibben

Talk about a power-move… these might just be the kind of game-changers we need to see more of in America.

Even though it is an amazing place for living in recovery, also considered the recovery capitol of the country, South Florida has seen its fair share of trouble in paradise. With an opiate epidemic that has gripped every part of America, even this beautiful community has a population of drug dealers and users, but Florida police are cracking down hard.

As someone who lives here in South Florida as a transplant from the Midwest and an active member of the recovery community it brings a great deal of satisfaction to see the area I now consider my home-away-from-home become a better place.

The last couple months there has been reason to celebrate some of the efforts put forth by law enforcement to make these cities safer. With stories in the news about how bad it gets out there, I figured it would be good to highlight two very recent stories of how police have made massive strides in the right direction when it comes to cutting off influence of the drug dealers in their neighborhoods.

Operation Street Sweeper- Delray City Arrests 28

At the end of April the story broke that police in the city of Delray Beach, Florida had arrested 28 suspected drug dealers in only 10 days as part of an undercover operation. One of the most recent arrests made was that of a man who carried a gun that reports said was called the “cop-killer.” This weapon carried condensed rifle bullets powerful enough to pierce bullet-proof vests, and police are happy to have this dangerous handgun off the streets.

The weapon was traced back to 32 year-old Gerald Petion, who was arrested Sunday evening on charges of:

  • Possession and sale of heroin
  • Possession of a weapon by a convicted felon

Apparently authorities state that Petion had actually left behind his gun during a police chase two weeks ago.

Delray Beach police began “Operation Street Sweeper” in February with the intention of getting drug dealers in this beautiful South Florida area out of the community. Controlled sales with known drug dealers were repeatedly staged by undercover police officers over the course of months in order to conduct a thorough investigation that lead to these arrests. Police obtained the warrants for these arrests in early April and tracked down many of the dealers, but some are still at-large.

Having arrested over 2 dozen alleged drug dealers in less than 2 weeks time is an impressive move sure to make a heavy impact on the drug traffic in the area. Most of the men and women busted by police were selling heroin, although some sold cocaine and prescription pills.

Operation Dope Death- Boynton Beach Busts 13

Boynton Beach police say an operation they labeled “Operation Dope Death” has helped them dole out a major victory over drug dealers in their community, claiming that this operation lead to:

  • Arresting 13 suspected drug dealers
  • Confiscated 62 grams of heroin
  • 5 grams of cocaine
  • 4 grams of marijuana
  • $4,300 cash
  • 8 cars
  • 1 gun

Police say the month-long investigation came after the rising number of calls in response to drug overdoses in the city so far this year, with more than 2/3 cases involving heroin and 5 ending in tragic deaths.

Out of the list of suspected drug dealers involved in the arrest, several were given multiple charges and suspected of dealing in multiple substances that are all controlled and dangerous.

10 have been booked into the Palm Beach County Jail since Monday, and there was even a 17-year-old suspect arrested and charged with the sale of heroin.

With these two substantial operations the police departments in South Florida are working towards dissolving a huge segment of the drug trafficking in the area, and hopefully as the community sees this more resources will come together to make moves toward even more change. It will take time, but it appears possible to level the playing field in more ways than one.

Paradise is nowhere near lost, but it will take work. The same is true for the lives of those impacted by addiction. Even in the darkest times having a willingness to move forward can save lives. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135. We want to help. You are not alone.

White Christmas Cancelled: Police Find 136 Pounds of Cocaine in NYC

White Christmas Cancelled: Police Find 136 Pounds of Cocaine in NYC

Author: Justin Mckibben

Well the weather man might not get the joke, the truth is the New York City Police, working alongside federal law enforcement agents, have recently made a bust that will cancel the white Christmas in NYC. According to Police and federal agents who broke the story, this week they have seized what they described as a “staggering” cargo of cocaine in the Bronx.

2 Names Making the Naught List

Apparently this massive shipment of cocaine had been shipped from Massachusetts, and in the course of the bust two men from Puerto Rico were arrested in connection to the bust. The two are allegedly part of a major drug trafficking network, and now they are definitely making the naughty list this holiday season for their involvement with this immense amount of illegal drug possession. Those two men were:

  • Mark Soto
  • Xavier Herbert-Gumbs

So far these two men have each been charged with two counts of criminal possession of a controlled substance.

Brand Name Bust

The sleigh-ride for these traffickers was cut short when a joint operation with New York Police Department detectives and Homeland Security Investigations agents stopped their cars this past Thursday evening. The law enforcement officers then discovered brick-shaped packages of cocaine pressed into bundles and marked with brand names in the vehicles.

According to local new networks in the area authorities stopped a rented vehicle around 6:15 pm, finding 110 pounds of cocaine inside. 24-year-old Herbert-Gumbs was reportedly a passenger in the car and confessed to the authorities that he had placed the box holding the cocaine bricks in the vehicle.

About an hour later, authorities stopped 23-year-old U.S. Army Reserves private Mark Soto as he was taking a duffel bag out of the trunk of a different vehicle. The new report claims that these authorities found 26 pounds of cocaine inside the bag.

After the hauling the two into custody the officers took their inventory and according to the court records, the defendants were allegedly transporting 136 pounds of cocaine, worth an estimated $3 million! New York City’s Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan said during a statement concerning the case,

“The sheer amount of cocaine seized in this case is staggering. This is the largest seizure of cocaine being transported in the region that our office has handled in recent years.”

But there was even more gifts to be unwrapped by the officers, because following the arrests investigators claimed they also seized $6,000 and a U-Haul equipment contract in the name of “Mark Gomez,” an alias they said Soto used, after officers had searched an apartment Friday evening on the block where Soto had been stopped.

Reports have also shown that police found identifying documents belonging to Herbert-Gumbs inside the vehicle Soto was using when he was arrested, suggesting it is evidence that the two were working together in some capacity while trafficking their respective bricks of “cheer” for special delivery. Glenn Sorge, acting special agent in charge HSI New York, stated:

“The violence associated with cocaine trafficking and the illicit proceeds poses a major threat to our communities’ welfare. HSI remains at the forefront of combating criminal organizations that threaten our homeland by smuggling drugs into the United States.”

Soto and Gumbs were arraigned the following day in Manhattan on charges of criminal possession of a controlled substance. Bail was set at $400,000. Looks like a lot of people won’t be getting cocaine for Christmas, but there might be a few extra lumps of coal for these two behind bars.

Drug policy and reform are changing the game for the cartels and drug traffickers, while law enforcement is taking a stand against the availability of drugs in response to mounting overdose deaths in America. For those suffering from drug addiction these reforms also mean change in a compassionate approach to help them the choice to get help. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

Attack on Paris: Drug Trafficking and Terrorism

Attack on Paris: Drug Trafficking and Terrorism

Author: Justin Mckibben

Much has been said and written in the aftermath of the tragic and horrific attacks of terrorism that struck Paris, France this past week. The terrible and barbaric acts of violence seem to have been noted as an exclamation point following months of similar brutal attacks in Syria, Kenya and other areas of the world where hundreds upon hundreds of innocent lives have been taken, bringing the tensions across the world to a boiling point as the topic of refugees, foreign policy and even war have been debated on every forum.

In this time of mourning thousands have united, while still thousands more are divided in a seething debate over the correct course of action. All over America we have seen signs of outrage and distrust as states push and pull in all directions concerning how the nation should respond. The world is watching with wavering hearts trying to protect the peace but stand firm for a safer future.

While people argue whether to push the blame on the government, the immigration laws, the refugees or the Muslim faith itself we want to take the time out to remind ourselves of something else; drug trafficking plays a powerful and indisputable role in terrorism.

The Connection to Paris

Currently there are two suspects thought to be involved in last week’s appalling attacks on the people of Paris, brothers Ibrahim and Salah Abdeslam.

Currently an intense manhunt across Brussels, Belgium is underway to track down Salah Abdeslam after the Islamic extremist group ISIS launched a string of deadly assaults Friday that resulted in the deaths of 132 people, injuring hundreds more. Salah Abdeslam, 26, is believed to have been the driver and rented at least two cars used by ISIS in the attacks.

His brother, Ibrahim, detonated a suicide vest during the attacks, killing no one but himself.

The connection is that Ibrahim apparently ran a bar in the neighborhood in Molenbeek, Brussels where he and Salah lived. According to reports, this establishment was eventually shut down after police found out it was a front for illegal drug dealing. The closure order that was issued said the bar had been “used for the consumption of illegal hallucinogenic substances,” while neighboring shopkeeper told authorities that Ibrahim had sold drugs from the premises.

This was not the only incidence where the two men were tied to illegal substances by police, but because a background check on the two men never revealed a criminal history a police spokesperson stated:

“There was therefore no legal basis to warrant further investigation,”

Apparently Ibrahim and his brother Salah managed to go without being convicted even where the bar was shut down, but there has been a lot of implication that the two were heavily involved in illicit drug dealing. In the hotel Salah used while in Paris before his deplorable actions police found several syringes scattered throughout the room.

So were these brothers drug dealers on a massive scale? This has yet to be seen. Either way, it should be noted that given their history of drug trafficking it is safe to say a fair amount of their own finances came from dealing in illegal narcotics.

The Overall Reality

The truth is this is nothing new! For years the the link between terrorism and drug trafficking has been evident and has also been recognized by the United Nations Security Council. According to the United Nations Office on Drug Crime’s (UNODC):

  • 2007 UNODC World Drug Report showed the total potential value of Afghanistan’s 2006 opium harvest accruing to farmers, laboratory owners and Afghan traffickers reached about $US3.1 billion.
  • 2004, some 400 tons of cocaine was exported from one Latin American country, with an estimated domestic value of US$ 2 billion.

However, things are beginning to look better in Afghanistan at least, with opium production reportedly dropping by nearly half from 2014 to 2015, according to the UNODC’s Afghanistan Opium Survey 2015.

  • 2014- 6,400 tons of opium
  • 2015- 3,300 tons of opium

Still, despite the drop in potential cultivation of opium in Afghanistan there is still plenty of threat out there, and plenty of other ways these terrorist groups can use drug trafficking to fund their heinous and disgusting plots of devastation.

So when looking at the billions upon billions made by drug traffickers in dealing drugs one has to ask- how much of this money is used for executing acts of extreme and dreadful terrorism?

And even worse, those numbers are just in the middle-east, not including in other areas of the country where terrorist operate!

Without question drug trafficking has provided the life-blood for insurgency and acts of nefarious violence in various regions all over the world. In many cases drugs have been used as the currency for commission of terrorist attacks, and reports have stated before that the sales of synthetic drugs (such as Balth Salts and Spice) in America have fueled the atrocities of these monsters all over the globe.

The reality is this; drug trafficking networks have been linked to terrorism for a long time. Maybe it is time for us to take notice and maybe find the connection between the country-wide contusion caused by the opiate epidemic, with the same poppy plants used for opium being the active ingredient in heroin, and the illegal industry used to fund terrorism in every aspect including:

  • Recruiting
  • Bribing
  • Weapons
  • Corruption

A recent conference in Istanbul, “The Role of Drug Trafficking in Promoting and Financing Today’s Global Terrorism,” included a speech by UNODC Senior Terrorism Prevention Officer Irka Kuleshnyk who stated:

“While it is difficult to establish how widely terrorist groups are involved in the illicit drug trade, or the breadth and nature of cooperation between these two criminal groups, the magnitude of the numbers involved make the relationship worrisome.”

The UNODC has a Terrorism Prevention Branch designed to play a crucial role in international affairs concerning drug trafficking and terrorist organizations. While organizations such as this must magnify their efforts in times like these we all should become more conscious of the realities behind these repulsive and ruinous attacks.

Of course not all drug dealers are terrorists, and neither are all Muslims. Both should be painfully obvious by now. But think of the damage being done by those who push this poison across the world, lining their pockets with blood money of the drug trade only to destroy the lives of more innocent people.

Our hearts and thoughts are with those from the many nations that have suffered due to the tragic atrocities, and we hope for a resolution for all those impacted by these events.

Drug policy and reform aim to change the politic climate and cut off this funding for these terrorist groups, but for those suffering from issues with drug addiction the change has to come from the choice to get help. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

 

International Harm Reduction Conference 2015

International Harm Reduction Conference 2015

Author: Justin Mckibben

This past October the 24th International Harm Reduction Conference 2015 was held in Kuala Lumpur, and many accounts showed how there was some serious differences in the way drug policy is handled around the world, but it also brought some hope to many that the necessary change in culture and climate was coming for fighting stigma and establishing effective treatment for drug addicts.

So how did we see this issue on an international level, and how is harm reduction being set to make an impact?

Death Penalty for Drug Trafficking

Overall, 33 countries still have the death penalty on their books and about seven still hold regular executions including:

  • Indonesia
  • Singapore
  • Malaysia
  • China
  • Iran
  • Saudi Arabia

Oh yea… and the United States!

Although here in America it seems we don’t follow through nearly as much as some of the other countries on the list.

While the exact number of executions is unknown, since most of these countries carry them out in secret, executions for drug trafficking have caused international friction between countries on several occasions in the past few years.

The thing is, academic studies have reported an overwhelming average of information showing that the death penalty is not a sufficient method to deter drug trafficking or drug use. At the International Harm Reduction Conference a panel on death penalty policies exposed how statistically the disciplinary drug policies of the last few decades have been largely ineffective at stopping drug trafficking or even reducing addiction rates. But what it has done is contributed to major issues such as:

  • Widespread health disparities
  • Discrimination
  • Inhumane treatment of people who use drugs

Indonesian human rights lawyer, Ricky Gunawan, who represents death penalty cases said in a statement concerning this discussion at the conference:

It’s all political. Current policies are not effective at stopping drug use, only at sending the message that people who use drugs are not worthy of rights, dignity, or even life.”

Unfortunately, despite the fact that evidence of the derogatory effects of purely punitive drug policies is overwhelmingly clear, it’s still hard to convince public officials to change policy. Some other countries seem light-years away from America’s current uprising of compassionate and supportive alternatives to punishment for addicts.

The American Influence

In the 1980s after the US launched its own War on Drugs there were several institutions all over the world that created extreme and harsh penalties related to drug policy, and some say the War on Drugs inspired a more aggressive view of attacking drugs in other countries, making addicts the enemy instead of seeing they were the ones suffering.

Some have said that American policies have influenced the countries where we invest, and some other countries interpret the message created by the War on Drugs in America in a much more intense way: people who use drugs are not entitled to the same rights and protections as everyone else.

While we may not take things to such an extreme, other countries are not holding back when it comes to taking the rights away from users in order to try and smother the issue. But it was not all bad news.

Change the Contrast

When looking at the addiction and drug abuse issue on a global scale there is such a severe contrast in some views of drug policy. In more places harm reduction programs such as syringe exchange movements are a routine part of public health policy, like Europe and North America. But then many countries still believe harm reduction is not an acceptable route, while the concept of government funding is laughable, and advocates struggle for years to obtain small victories for basic human rights in order to save lives.

Rick Lines, executive director of Harm Reduction International, held up a briefing paper drafted by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) that stated:

“treating drug use for non-medical purposes and possession for personal consumption as criminal offences has contributed to public health problems and induced negative consequences for safety, security and human rights.”

The document was made in an effort to encourage Member States to consider decriminalizing drug use and possession for personal consumption.

The contrast to that was shortly before the conference, the UNODC released a statement claiming that the paper had been prematurely leaked and refused to endorse anything it said, which personally causes a great deal of confusion as to whether or not the United Nations will stand behind the statement on the page.

Hopefully harm reduction advocates will have an answer soon, as the UN General Assembly has called for a Special Session on Drugs in New York in 2016, the first time a session like this has been called since 1998. Harm reduction advocates are hopeful that the past decades of failed War on Drugs policies, which have only exacerbated disease and death with no decrease in drug manufacturing or use, will motivate the United Nations to actively pursue a path more humane and actively compassionate.

Police, politicians, educators and community leaders are constantly working together to try and create a change in perspective, and part of this shift is harm reduction. While it might not be the perfect solution, harm reduction is designed to keep people alive long enough to get the help they need that could save them from their addiction. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free e 1-800-951-6135

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