Stat News reported that U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb is looking to more than double the number of packages his agency inspects at International Mail Facilities (IMF) to decrease the amount of deadly opioids, especially fentanyl, from getting into the country. In an interview with The Associated Press, Gottlieb said additional staff is needed to process packages so that opioids disguised as other drugs and supplements can be intercepted.
E-commerce has dramatically increased the number of packages being shipped into the U.S., leaving the FDA, U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and other governmental agencies struggling to sift through the over 275 million packages received each year. Gottlieb said, “We’re finding an increasing number of opioids coming in through those facilities (IMF). In some ways the FDA is the last line of defense.” He said counterfeiters often turn to synthetic opioids like fentanyl because they are cheap and potent.
The FDA currently has 23 inspectors working at the nation’s nine IMF and they now inspect approximately 40,000 packages each year. Gottlieb hopes the FDA will be able to increase their staffing level to let them examine 100,000 packages. He said the IMF at Kennedy Airport currently has five FDA inspectors who open and process about 75 packages per day. While visiting that facility with members of Congress and staff earlier this week, Gottlieb said he hoped seeing what they were up against would encourage lawmakers to approve the increase to his agency’s budget. “The reason why we had members of Congress here today is because we’re looking at trying to step up our footprint in those facilities even more.”
A staff report issued by the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in January 2018 highlighted the need to increase inspections at IMF. Their report that all foreign companies looking to ship fentanyl to customers in the U.S. considered USPS to be the most likely carrier for their shipments to get past. In August 2017, Gottlieb saw firsthand what the inspectors at the JFK IMF were up against.