CHICAGO– U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at the International Mail Branch (IMB) facility at O’Hare International Airport is opening a new satellite lab located at the IMB to help identify illegal narcotics being shipped through the mail.
This permanent facility, owned by the FDA and run by CBP’s Laboratories and Scientific Services (LSS) and FDA scientists. This satellite lab will have greater capabilities to identify narcotics when officer’s available testing procedures are inconclusive. Currently, officers who seize narcotics use a handheld analysis tool to identify the possible narcotic. The handheld device has a limited library, so if the test is inconclusive the officers would set it aside and it would be sent to the main lab for further testing. With this new satellite location, CBP’s lab scientists are onsite and will be able to identify the narcotic faster. This means the narcotic is identified and CBP can send it off for destruction or adjudication.
This year, the Chicago Field Office lead the nation in drug seizures, and 20% of the international mail coming into the United States is processed at O’Hare’s International Mail Branch. “Establishing this is a huge benefit,” said Anthony Malana, Assistant Director of LSS Directorate, Chicago. “It allows us to do an on-the-spot screening. It’s another tool we can use to identify and keep dangerous drugs out of the hands of the American public.”
Currently, Chicago ranks second in the nation in opioid seizures. With this nation-wide epidemic The Chicago Field Office sought out a way to address this problem. Working with the USPS and the FDA, LSS, the scientific arm of CBP, and CBP officers were able to acquire this mobile asset and have it set up at the IMB. “This is representation of how the FDA, CBP and LSS can come together and fight this opioid crisis,” said Trish Hawes, Deputy Executive Director. “It’s the reason that started all these conversations anyway. We identified our problems sets and identified CBP issues and FDA issues. The way we thought we could do things better was to have a co-located facility. This brings us close to the proximity of the operators, eliminating our facility from being miles away.”
This is CBP’s first facility co-located with FDA and LSS scientists with plans to incorporate this model at other mail facilities. “Having FDA scientists and CBP scientists on site with the new mobile lab will allow for much faster processing times for unidentifiable substances, such as synthetic narcotics, including fentanyl, from foreign countries,” said Michael Pfeiffer, Acting Port Director, Chicago. “This accelerated processing timeframe will allow the Office of Field Operations to complete seizures and controlled deliveries much more rapidly.”