My son died from fentanyl poisoning because of a U.S. customs ‘exception’

The de minimis loophole allows dangerous drugs to enter the country unchecked.
Cory Crews and his mother, Leah DeVere. Cory died in 2022 from a fentanyl overdose.

Credit: handout

Credit: handout

Cory Crews and his mother, Leah DeVere. Cory died in 2022 from a fentanyl overdose.

Georgia Gov. Brian P. Kemp signed a bill that makes it easier to charge drug dealers with felony aggravated involuntary manslaughter if they supply fentanyl that causes a fatality. That’s a positive step toward stopping the fentanyl crisis gripping Georgia.

However, there’s also a loophole in U.S. customs law, called “de minimis,” that is helping illicit fentanyl get into the hands of Georgia’s drug dealers. It’s what led to the poisoning and death of my son, Cory Crews, and it needs to be closed immediately.

On July 16, 2022, Cory took what he thought was Percocet to address his back pain, laid down next to his 2-year-old-daughter and never got up again.

Cory became another casualty of the illicit fentanyl crisis ravaging Georgia and communities from coast to coast. It’s a scourge that took the lives of an estimated 73,000 Americans in 2022 alone. It pains me every day to know that Cory is gone — and it hurts even more knowing that his death was entirely preventable.

The frightening truth is that illicit fentanyl is becoming more and more available in Georgia. And Americans can even have illicit fentanyl mailed straight to their homes. Under the de minimis customs rule, small international mail packages valued at less than $800 can be mailed directly to U.S. consumers. Millions of these packages now enter the country each day, and they completely bypass federal scrutiny.

Cory was killed by a bogus pill purchased online that was laced with illicit fentanyl. But it’s international mail and the de minimis loophole that got it into his hands. By tracing the package in which the pill was delivered, my family learned that the shipment originated abroad and breezed past U.S. Customs enforcement without so much as a second glance.

My son’s life was worth more than $800. Keeping the de minimis exemption open diminishes the value of his life and the lives of other victims and families.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection acknowledges that narcotics are coming in through the de minimis loophole — and that bad actors can “exploit the increasing volumes of de minimis shipments to transit illicit goods, including fentanyl.”

Thankfully, some lawmakers in Washington understand the dangers of de minimis and want to close it completely.

The House China Select Committee held a hearing last month and released a report noting how China has weaponized fentanyl. In fact, the drug is now the leading cause of death among Americans aged 18 to 45.

The de minimis loophole has become a bottomless pit. It invites drug cartels and smugglers in China and elsewhere to take advantage and ship contraband, including illicit fentanyl, into the United States. To put it plainly: People are dying because of de minimis exemptions.

The sad, scary fact is that, because of de minimis, it’s impossible to know how many illicit narcotics packages are entering the United States each day — or for U.S. Customs to inspect them.

China is now the world’s leading manufacturer of fentanyl precursors. And so, holding China accountable in the fight against illicit fentanyl is an absolute necessity. We should prevent any shipments from China from getting this inspection-free de minimis exemption.

I welcome working with Georgia lawmakers and all members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to engage in meaningful reform — to save lives and end the de minimis exemption. I also urge President Biden — who has the authority under current law — to take action if Congress won’t.

If such reforms were already in place, and the de minimis loophole was completely closed, it’s likely my son Cory would still be alive. Sadly, too many other families could also say the same.

The de minimis loophole is killing Americans. That’s an indisputable fact. If Congress closes it, the United States will cut off a major pipeline driving the drug epidemic in Georgia and the nation.

Leah Wread DeVere is a resident of Bowdon, Ga., and an advocate in the fight against illicit fentanyl.