U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer was in Plattsburgh, New York recently to promote the distribution of funds that will allow local law enforcement officers to obtain technology to detect the presence of fentanyl in the field.
New York Senator Schumer, a Democrat, supported the Providing Officers With Electronic Resources, or POWER Act. After it was signed by President Trump, Schumer wants funds released as soon as possible. “We want the money out by the summer. We don’t want the money sitting on some bureau…you know the figurative money…sitting on some bureaucrat’s desk for a year while they dither and dather and dilly and dally. We cannot wait.”
Schumer was at the University of Vermont Health Network Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh to describe how the new law will help, particularly in rural communities. He noted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that overdose deaths in 2016 were 21 percent higher than the previous year, with fentanyl a particularly deadly challenge. “Fentanyl is, they lace the opioids with it and it’s deadly. Sometimes you can die from touching it. And oftentimes the first use can cause death or very severe addiction. It’s colorless. It’s odorless and it’s more powerful than morphine. Fentanyl laced heroin is 50 to 100 times more powerful than regular heroin. And they market it to the kids and everybody else this is a super high. But it’s very dangerous.”
The POWER Act creates a new grant program within the Department of Justice to help law enforcement agencies obtain devices that can screen for fentanyl in the field. “There’s a technology that can detect fentanyl. It’s amazing. It’s called a mass spectrometer. And yet we don’t have many of these mass spectrometers. They’re not that expensive. But we don’t have them at our ports of entry. We need them in them in our post offices because sometimes they mail the stuff. And so part of our legislation will have the federal government step up to the plate and pay for a large number of these mass spectrometer fentanyl detectors and they will be available. If we can really crack down on fentanyl using this money we can really get something done in terms of reducing the number of deaths.”
Clinton County Sheriff David Favro has not used a mass spectrometer but expects the technology will be an asset. “On the street particularly you don’t know if you’re dealing with fentanyl or not. Unless you can specifically identify some type of chemical makes it a challenge to be able to secure it. But at least with these devices depending upon their portability if they can be put into a vehicle and we can use them for various types of traffic details we may be able to secure more fentanyl that’s coming through our county. It is on the rise. The problem is that it’s mixed onto other drugs. Fentanyl itself generally isn’t just something that they’re using straight up but they’re dosing it onto other types of drugs.”
Senator Schumer noted that that the bill also includes more funding for treatment. To highlight that need, Champlain Valley Family Center treatment councilor Terri Champagne described her story of recovery. “I wanted to show you that this is the face of what addiction looks like. I think so often when we think about who an addict is we become detached from our own humanness. I eventually ended up using with my mom and those memories still haunt me today. I lied. I stole. I cheated. I became the exact opposite of everything I had dreamed of. In 2013 I found my mom dead of an opiate overdose and a few months later I used for the last time. I got my credentials for counseling in 2017 and I’ve been working in my dream job for a year. Why not take the thing that almost destroyed my life, and make my life’s work out of it?”
Schumer: “Terri your power, your strength of character, your humanity really touches I think every one of us, certainly me. If every Congressman and Senator would hear your story we’d have no trouble getting the help we need for everybody.”
Sheriff Favro believes a multi-pronged approach is the only way to address the addiction crisis. “It’s not going to be successfully to just keep incarcerating people and not dealing with it at the incarcerated level. We have to make sure that we provide treatment at that level prior to them actually getting out onto the streets. I’ve been working very closely with Champlain Valley Family Center. We’ve applied for a couple grants recently that tie in not just substance abuse but also employment opportunities and teaching soft skill certifications to inmates that are incarcerated in the jail.”
The POWER Act provides $15 million nationally to local law enforcement for the devices and training in the use of the mass spectrometers.