Mailroom Workers Face Deadly Fentanyl Dangers


Unchecked mail leads to fentanyl in the US

The Herald-Dispatch

“This isn’t like boats of cocaine that can only go to a certain island. Every post office now becomes like the Port of Miami.”

–Juliette Kayyem

“Customs officers cannot examine every one of the 1 million packages that pass through the JFK facility every day.”

-–USA Today

Burgeoning online sales of the new and highly dangerous synthetic opioid drugs from foreign countries are pouring into the United States via the US Postal Service mail.

What is the Danger?

Anyone who opens mail at your organization is at risk.

“The drug is so powerful that DEA officials have warned it can kill people just by touching it.”


Lethal potent synthetic opioid drugs are pouring into the U.S. via international mail daily.  Our current United States Postal Service system cannot keep up with the dangers.  The packages are reaching homes and businesses, unchecked or undetected.

Suddenly, your organization’s mailroom could be unwittingly a drug distribution center. But more urgently, your mail handlers are at risk for occupational exposure to deadly opioid drugs. There are states hardest hit such as West Virginia and New Hampshire, but since the drugs are going everywhere, even a more remote location doesn’t mean any more safety from this threat.

If you think beyond drug dealers, and how they currently get a deadly envelope through the mail – terrorists and other lone-wolf types are sure to utilize this dangerous loophole with direct access to your organization. Targeted individuals or companies are just a postage stamp away from danger.

You can safely assume opioid drugs are much easier to obtain than Anthrax or Ricin.

“It’s going absolutely everywhere”

CBS News

What is Different About This Threat?

The landscape of synthetic drugs such as fentanyl and carfentanil has changed very quickly. Where drug sellers used to cut heroin with some of the cheaper synthetics, in the name of profit they now have replaced heroin all together with these deadly concoctions.  The synthetics are 10-100 times more potent – and therefore more deadly.

It is extremely hard to detect the individual shipments of small quantities, sometimes only several granules. In order to get around FDA drug classifications, new synthetics are being developed daily by malicious scientists skirting drug laws.

The shipments are being received by smaller individuals who ordered on the dark web. Large cartels don’t need to use this system. However, the people seeking these drugs no longer need a cartel as internet shopping has become the norm.

“But there’s another route that drug smugglers have also found to be effective: the US Postal Service.”


Ineffective Mail Screening

There are two major issues with the government’s screening these international shipments before they get to your building.

  • First, the USPS does not require advance electronic screening of mail. There is currently a bill under consideration that would require the USPS to gather digital information and send the data to government agencies. The agencies could then better investigate illegal shipments.
  • Second, physical screening is also limited. Customs and Border Protection handles more than 275 million parcels through international mail facilities. Todd Owen, an official with the agency, revealed this problem, “we’re literally taking giant sacks of mail and putting it through X-rays, looking for those shipments of concern.”  He said at the Senate round table this spring, “The volume is overwhelming.”

“Fentanyl is the number one killer drug in America. And as deadly as it is, you can go online and order it through the mail.”  Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Washington Post

What are the Types of Opioid Threats?

Opiates are a class of drug that suppresses the central nervous system. They were originally naturally derived. Now they are also synthetically made.

Natural Opiates –not as powerful or dangerous:

  1. Opium: the ‘sap’ of poppy plants used to make natural opiates
  2. Morphine: powerful analgesic treatment for chronic pain
  3. Codeine: sedative and narcotic painkiller
  4. Heroin: (made using Morphine): extremely addictive opiate drug

Synthetic Opioids – highly dangerous

  • Fentanyl: up to 50x more lethal than heroin
  • Carfentanil (Elephant tranquillizer)
  • Demerol: potent opioid narcotic painkiller (often used in labor and childbirth)
  • Hydrocodone
  • Oxycodone
  • Dilaudid
  • Norco
  • Lortab
  • Methadone
  • Buprenorphine and much much more….

How potent is Fentanyl?

Image Credit: CNN - How potent is fentanyl?

Image Credit: CNN

What Should We Look for?

  1. Small packages or envelopes mailed via USPS
  2. Packages and/or envelopes originating from China or Hong Kong
  3. Repeat packages/letters from international locations such as China

And all the regular Signs of Dangerous Mail including:

  • Excessive postage
  • Sealed with extra tape and material
  • Restrictive markings like “Personal” or “Private”
  • Lack of return address
  • Lopsided or uneven package
  • Badly typed or written addressing
  • Misspelled words
  • The return address from a foreign country or does not match postmarking


Finding these opioids in the mail is extremely hard. Factors that hinder efforts include:

  1. Size – a few grains can be deadly
  2. Quantity – the sheer volume of international mail
  3. Tracking – lack of electronic data sender information system for our USPS

Do We Have the Right Equipment for Protection?

First and foremost, protect your employees.

At a minimum, provide the protective equipment needed including:

  • Nitrile Gloves
  • Safety Goggle Glasses

We suggest the following the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) recommendations from the CDC website for emergency workers using perhaps the “Minimal” or “Moderate” categories.

Their categories are as follows:

  • Minimal: “Response to a situation where it is suspected that fentanyl may be present but no fentanyl products are visible.”
  • Moderate:“Response to a situation where small amounts of fentanyl products are or appear visible.”

For more information visit

Do We Have the Right Equipment for Screening?

Currently, the following are being used by mail screeners:

  1. Hand-Held Sensors
  2. Automatic Sensors
  3. X-ray Machine
  4. Canine Teams  -with care, dogs can become sickened and handlers are carrying proper canine Naloxone kits in case of danger.  (More information at the end of the CDC page.)

How Can We Ensure Protection?

Unfortunately, since this threat is so new, there are not yet federal or private guidelines developed and proven. In fact, this past October, the U.S. Congress sent a letter to the USPS requesting a USPS audit to examine how it is protecting its workforce from the risks of illegally shipped opioids.

You need to know what is coming through your doors. Parcels that are illegal or endangering employees are compromising your facilities and reputation Relying on the USPS inspection of parcels is not protecting you.

  1. Appoint a mail center security coordinator and an alternate to be responsible for your screening plan, your employee protection plan and to ensure compliance.
  2. Establish lines of communication between the mail center security coordinator, management, and the security office.
  3. Screen all mail and packages when they first arrive at your mailroom for sorting.
  4. Staff who sort mail by hand should perform the screening, as they are the ones most likely to notice a suspicious item.
  5. Prominently display a list of suspicious letter and package indicators in your mailroom and provide a copy of the list to all staff to ensure they’re familiar with it.

Basic steps for Synthetic Opioid Mailroom Safety include:

  1. Provide and train employees to wear the correct protective equipment
  2. Put a plan in writing
  3. Install correct sensor equipment
  4. Train employees on proper screening procedures
  5. Run practice drills

If this is not possible, consider outsourcing mail screening to a third party or sending mail to a third party screening facility.

As always, I appreciate your comments.