What Happens When USPS Finds Drugs?

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The United States Postal Service (USPS) is a federal entity and as such, is subject to federal laws regarding the shipment and handling of controlled substances. When USPS personnel discover packages suspected of containing illegal drugs, specific protocols are followed in accordance with federal law and USPS regulations.

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Discovery of Suspected Illegal Substances

When a USPS employee suspects that a package contains illegal drugs, a series of actions are initiated, which often involve coordination with law enforcement agencies.

Inspection of Packages

  • Probable Cause: USPS inspectors must have probable cause to open and inspect parcels. This may arise from various indicators, such as suspicious packaging, odors, or information from law enforcement.
  • Search Warrants: In cases where probable cause is established, USPS inspectors can obtain a search warrant to open and inspect a package.

Involvement of Law Enforcement

  • Postal Inspectors: The USPS has its own law enforcement arm, the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), which investigates suspected mail containing illegal drugs.
  • Coordination with Other Agencies: The USPIS may work in conjunction with other agencies, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and local law enforcement, to investigate and address the shipment of controlled substances.

The shipment of illegal drugs through the mail is a federal offense. If an investigation confirms the presence of controlled substances, the sender and receiver of the package could face serious legal consequences.

Charges and Prosecution

  • Federal Charges: Individuals involved in mailing illegal drugs can be charged with federal drug trafficking offenses, which carry severe penalties, including imprisonment and fines.
  • State Charges: Depending on the nature of the crime and the substances involved, state charges may also be applicable.


  • Severity of Penalties: The severity of the penalties depends on various factors, including the type and quantity of the drug, prior convictions of the individuals involved, and the geographic area of the offense.
  • Asset Forfeiture: In addition to criminal penalties, individuals may also be subject to civil asset forfeiture, where property used in connection with the drug trafficking offense can be seized by the government.

Prevention and Awareness Programs

USPS and the USPIS actively engage in public awareness campaigns to educate individuals and businesses about the laws and regulations governing the mailing of substances and to prevent the misuse of mail services for illegal drug trafficking.

Training and Resources

  • Employee Training: USPS employees receive training to recognize and report packages that may contain illegal drugs.
  • Public Information: The USPIS provides resources to the public to raise awareness about the proper and legal use of the mail system.


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