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Schumer Touts Tool Targeting Illegal Synthetic Opioids

Lucas Willard

The opioid addiction crisis continues to grip upstate New York as well as the rest of the country. On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer visited Schenectady to tout new legislation that is aimed at combatting the influx of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that can be many times more potent and lethal than heroin.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more people died from drug overdoses in 2014 than any other year on record. Moreover, since 1999 the amount of overdose deaths attributed to heroin and opioids has nearly quadrupled.

The same trends are found in the Capital Region, where deaths and overdoses continue to climb each year. And law enforcement is looking at every option it can to fight the problem.

Schenectady County Sheriff Dominic Dagostino…

“It has to be considered an attack on the heroin epidemic, it has to be multi-faceted. It can’t be just enforcement. Rehabilitation, prevention, education, all has to play a key part in this effort in order for us to be successful,” said Dagostino.

Schenectady County has expanded its drug unit, a partnership between the sheriff’s office and District Attorney’s office. Recently, the county voted to enter a lawsuit to hold pharmaceutical companies that distribute opioid painkillers responsible for the increased costs on the county.

On Tuesday, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer appeared in Schenectady to announce his support for another tool, the newly introduced INTERDICT Act.

“Here in the Capital Region we have great folks here doing a great job in law enforcement. But it didn’t originate here. There’s not much they can do to stop it from coming in. It is a federal responsibility,” said Schumer.

The International Narcotics Trafficking Emergency Response by Detecting Incoming Contraband with Technology Act would give federal border patrol agents additional personnel and screening tools to detect illegal shipments of fentanyl.

A synthetic opioid, fentanyl and its derivatives are often shipped into the U.S. from abroad through the mail.

Fentanyl-related deaths have increased 72 percent between 2014 and 2015.

In Schenectady County, there were zero fentanyl-related deaths in 2014. Last year, there were 13.

Schumer previously pushed for Schenectady to become a designated High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, or HIDTA, which increases communication between federal authorities and local law enforcement.

Schumer says the new INTERDICT Act is made effective with that communication in place.

“It has both Democratic and Republican sponsors, I’m putting all my muscle behind it, and it’s likely to pass out of the Judiciary Committee in the next few months,” said Schumer.

The bill, introduced last month by Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey, along with Florida Republican Marco Rubio, Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown, and West Virginia Republican Shelley Moore Capio, has bipartisan support.

Schumer is also getting support from James DeSantis, an addict in recovery enrolled in a program at New Choices Recovery Center in Schenectady.

“At the end of the day, what this drug is doing is taking away second chances. And what I mean by that is the child that tries this drug for the first time and doesn’t know any better, dies easier with fentanyl. The addict who is in recovery and struggling who accidentally slips up and ends up using a bag that is laced with fentanyl dies and doesn’t get another chance. The same batch that I overdosed from killed a man that I knew as my uncle. OK? I’ve lost a few friends from this program recently, within the last few months, because of this drug. In reality, it’s the drug dealers playing god when they mess with stuff like this,” said DeSantis.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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