Amid Opioid Crisis, Schumer Backs Bill To Fund High-Tech Screening Devices

Feb 20, 2019

U.S. Democratic Senator Charles Schumer was in the Hudson Valley Tuesday. He was there telling local police departments and elected officials that he will try to secure funding for high-tech detection tools in the battle against opioid addiction.

The Senate Minority Leader stood outside the Poughkeepsie Police Department saying he was renewing his push for a bipartisan bill set to be reintroduced to help state and local law enforcement secure new portable screening devices to identify drugs such as the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl.

“These machines can tell every, about 30 kinds of drugs,” says Schumer. “And the machines are so powerful they could detect fentanyl and some of these other drugs through a pill bottle.”

He says federal law enforcement officials have already deployed this equipment to screen contraband smuggled into the U.S. at the border or through the mail. The bill Schumer backs is called the POWER, or Providing Officers with Electronic Resources, Act. He says it would authorize $20 million for the U.S. Department of Justice to create the grant program to help small cities, counties and other municipalities obtain funding to pay for the devices, which cost about $80,000 each.

“I hope that the bill will pass this spring, and this money will be available starting October 1, when the next federal budget occurs,” Schumer says. “And it will help increase the safety of our police officers as well as their effectiveness.”

Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro:

“We know that we are facing the public health crisis or our lifetime,” Molinaro says. “And too many lives are being taken because of addiction and the ills of addiction and, ultimately, losing lives to overdose.”

In 2017, 75 people died from opioid overdoses in Dutchess County. Schumer says New York state Department of Health statistics show Dutchess had 277 outpatient emergency department visits related to opioid overdoses that year, and 1,453 people from the county were admitted into chemical dependency programs while 390 people were administered the opioid overdose reversal drug Naloxone. Molinaro describes the county’s addiction response program as robust.

“Law enforcement in Dutchess County today, everyone on the street is being trained in crisis intervention training, mental health first aid. We’re training in Narcan use. We’re giving our law enforcement officials the tools necessary to respond effectively. However, we need the tools to make sure that they are safe in doing so,” says Molinaro. “And the POWER Act with the grant funding enables us to assist local law enforcement with the tools and technology needed to protect them while each and every one of them sacrifice on behalf of us.”

Republican Poughkeepsie Mayor Rob Rolison was a police officer for 26 years.

“We, in 2017, started a new team partnering up with mental health professionals from Dutchess County called the BEAT team, which is the Behavioral Evaluation Action Team. Specially trained crisis intervention officers go out with mental health professionals and help people in crisis. Now, unfortunately, they already are in crisis, and they’re in crisis because of addictions, whether it’s alcohol, whether it’s substance abuse, whether it’s both,” Rolison says. “And this POWER Act maybe will help not getting as many people at that stage where we have to have more BEAT teams.”

And, Rolison says, keeping law enforcement safe. Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin, and the illegally manufactured variety is often mixed with heroin or other drugs without the user’s knowledge, according to Senator Schumer.

“It comes from synthetic drugs from China, and the Chinese government is horrible about this. They let these big drug manufacturers make this stuff and send it to us,” Schumer says. “China is awful to the United States in a lot of ways. It’s one of the areas I agree with Donald Trump — we should be much tougher on China than we are.”

He notes that exposure to illicit fentanyl can be fatal. Schumer says the Poughkeepsie Police Department would need up to six screeners for its force of about 90. Prior to his Poughkeepsie visit, Schumer was in Westchester and Orange Counties also pushing the POWER Act.