U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer was in Albany today at the Albany County Courthouse, pushing legislation known as POWER, or the Providing Officers with Electronic Resources Act.
POWER would authorize $20 million for the U.S. Department of Justice to create a grant program to help municipalities secure funding to buy new portable drug screening devices.
Schumer stated that the opioid crisis requires an all-hands-on-deck approach, especially in Albany County, which holds a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) designation and has seen more than 80 opioid overdose deaths since 2016.
He explained that synthetic opioid fentanyl, which is 50 to 100 times stronger than heroin, has quickly swept into the Albany area. "Albany County, between 2016 and 2018, 81 opioid deaths. Rensselaer County 37 deaths, Saratoga County 33 deaths, Schenectady County 73 deaths. According to New York State DOH, Department of Health, 3,375 people in Albany County were admitted into chemical dependency programs between 2015 and June of 2018. 1800 from Rensselaer County, 1400 from Saratoga County, 2000 from Schenectady County. And that's in good part because of fentanyl. It's called Gray Death."
Schumer noted that distributors in China are the principal source of the precursor chemicals used to manufacture the drug. The Democrat says new hi-tech hand-held scanners costing about $80,000 each are sensitive and highly accurate. He says they can dramatically assist and protect law enforcement. Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple detailed an incident over the weekend in Vermont when a state trooper apprehended a man in a routine traffic stop.
"He searched the vehicle, barely got back to his station, hit the lights and siren in the parking lot. And overdosed. That's all he remembered. Because he got it on him. He inhaled it. He doesn't know if he handled it in the car, what happened. But fortunate enough he was lucky enough to live through it."
Sgt. Brett Flansburg was revived with two doses of Narcan.
Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins said he's never seen anything in his law enforcement career that approaches the urgency of the opioid crisis. "I've been in law enforcement for thirty years. I've worked in the Midwest. Now I'm over on the East Coast. I'll tell ya, this opioid epidemic is one of the worst that I've seen in terms of challenges that we face in law enforcement. And the Senator is absolutely correct. Everybody, wherever you live, whatever your lot in life is, this epidemic is impacted. So any support that we can get in law enforcement to address this is saving lives. It's helping law enforcement to do their jobs better."
Fentanyl suppliers, according to a press release issued by Senator Schumer's office, use methods such as mislabeling shipments or concealing the drug inside legitimate goods in order to avoid law enforcement detection. Through July of 2018, U.S. Border Patrol seized nearly 340 pounds of fentanyl, almost double the 181 pounds of fentanyl that was seized in all of 2017. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that between June 2017 and June 2018, a record 31,500 people in the United States died from synthetic opioid overdoses, excluding methadone. The labs that make these synthetic opioids take advantage of law enforcement officials’ limited capabilities to detect fentanyl. Schumer noted the drug is extremely lucrative for dealers and cartels, who can sell $3,000 to $5,000 in fentanyl purchased from a Chinese drug laboratory for up to $1.5 million on the street.
Schumer added that Mexico is the primary source of illicit fentanyl smuggled into the United States. He said the Albany area needs between 10 and 15 of the handheld scanners for effective policing. He has previously stumped for the POWER Act in the Hudson Valley.