As Summit County’s drug overdose numbers continued to hover around 25 or 26 per week in January, a yearlong U.S. Senate probe revealed what Akron narcotics detectives already knew: fentanyl and carfentanil are coming here from China through the U.S. mail.

The potentially deadly drugs are often as easy to order online as a book.

But Akron drug dealers don’t have the synthetic opioid delivered to their own doors, narcotics investigators have said. They have the packages shipped to nearby vacant houses, hoping to make it more difficult for detectives to trace who may be receiving the shipments.

U.S. Senator Rob Portman — who pushed for legislation in 2016 that would force the postal service to track international packages — chaired the probe by a Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs investigations subcommittee, which released its findings last week.

The federal investigation began simply by Googling “fentanyl for sale.”

Over coming months, investigators posed as first-time buyers and discovered international sellers of fentanyl and other drugs preferred to be paid through cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, but would accept PayPal, credit cards and other payments, too.

Investigators never followed through with purchases, but did subpoena payment information to find out who in the U.S. had purchased from the websites they had found.

They discovered people from 43 U.S. states bought the drugs, mostly in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida.

The synthetic opioids purchased had an estimated street value of $766 million.

Among them, Portman said last week, was a man near Cleveland who paid $2,500 over the course of 10 months to an online overseas seller for 18 packages.

The man who received the drugs died of a fentanyl overdose in early 2017, Portman said.

He was 49.

The average age of those who overdosed in Summit County between Jan. 19 and Jan. 25 was 40.2.

Most of those — about 54 percent — were men.

Portman and other senators introduced legislation in 2016 requiring the U.S. Postal Service to collect electronic data to track international packages.

But the U.S. Postal Service and State Department at the time said some countries would have trouble complying with the technology.

Portman, armed with new information from the investigation revealed last week, is pushing again.

Last year, he said the Postal Service received electronic data on about 36 percent of the more than 498 million international packages coming into the U.S.

“How many more people have to die before we keep this poison out of our communities?” Portman asked aloud last week at a hearing to discuss findings of the U.S. Senate investigation.

“Yes, the Postal Service is in desperate need of comprehensive reform,” Portman said. “But it is shocking that we are still so unprepared to police the mail arriving in our country.”

Amanda Garrett can be reached at 330-996-3725 or agarrett@thebeaconjournal.com.