Senator Schumer: Heroin 'Skyrocketing' In Capital Region

Dec 1, 2014

New York U.S. Senator Charles Schumer was in Albany today to lead the call for getting emergency anti-drug trafficking funding into the Capital Region.

Senator Charles Schumer at the podium, Albany County Court House, December 1, 2015.
Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

Appearing in the rotunda at the Albany County Court House, Senator Schumer joined local law enforcement officials to call for an emergency $100 million surge of federal anti-drug trafficking funding in order to quickly combat the growing heroin problem here. According to Schumer, the money would go to federally-designated High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas like Albany County to support local law enforcement, which faces unique drug trafficking patterns.  "An increase of a hundred million will bring HIDTA's total to 338 million, and that will be for the whole country, but the Capital Region will get a significant portion of it, because we have become one of the centers of the pipeline."

Schumer noted that over the past couple of years, heroin overdoses and arrests have skyrocketed in the region, particularly because of Albany’s location.    "Albany is situated between New York City, one of the main distribution points, and Vermont, which we all know is one of the country's epicenters for heroin abuse."

Schumer also is urging the federal Department of Justice to unlock more than $6 million in funding owed to Albany County law enforcement.    "As the result of a $10 million offshore gambling case that originated in Sheriff Apple's office, the county is owed a significant portion of the money that was confiscated.  Not all of this money can be used for heroin fighting, but a good portion of it can. That money should come to us immediately, even before we pass any legislation."

Schumer said that 4.2 million Americans ages 12 and older reportedly have used heroin at least once. According to the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, heroin availability and abuse has increased significantly in Albany County because it is more cost-effective. According to the police, heroin users in many nearby rural counties travel to Albany, where dealers sell the addictive narcotic  for $10 per bag or $100 per bundle.  "These people are killers. We know they're trying to make money, but they're killing people to make money," said Schumer.

Schumer has written to the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Department of Justice.

A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee appears below:  

Heroin seized by the Albany County Sheriff
Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

Dear Chairwoman Mikulski and Ranking Member Shelby,

As you continue your hard work on the FY2015 Omnibus Appropriations, I respectfully write to request your support for funding to a federal program that is in dire need of increased support.

Over the last several years, a disturbing and dangerous trend has begun to emerge.  Heroin, a drug once thought of as only for the most serious of drug users, has infiltrated our cities, towns, and local schools.  My home state of New York has been especially ravaged by this increase in abuse.  In Albany, heroin arrests have nearly doubled over the last two years, while total heroin seizures have skyrocketed from under 100 grams in 2012 to over 1000 grams this year.  All across the state, the price of a tenth of a gram has plummeted to roughly $10, which has effectively made heroin easier to acquire than other opioids such as hydrocodone or oxycodone.  It has become so prevalent across the state that 35% of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s total seizures nationwide have been by New York agents.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has been instrumental in the fight against prescription drug abuse, and as they turn their attention to heroin, they need our continued support.  That is why I am asking that this year you increase funding for the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) Program to $338,522,000.  I realize this level is significantly higher than the fiscal year 2014 approved appropriation as well as the recommendation of the President; however it is imperative that we assist local officials in every way possible to prevent heroin from becoming more of a crisis than it already is.  The crack epidemic in the 1980’s is an example of what can happen when a dangerous drug is left unchecked by federal officials, and we must take action.  Not only has the HIDTA program been essential to New York, but it has helped facilitate cooperation and information sharing among law enforcement agencies and public health officials alike all across the country.  They provide vital technical and substantive support to local law enforcement as they work cases from beginning to end, trying to locate and track the individuals responsible for bringing this epidemic within our borders.  As a federal program not directly tied to any one agency, the HIDTA program is uniquely positioned to serve as a platform to bring public safety and public health officials together as they both strive for the same goal: preventing dangerous drug abuse.  ONDCP and HIDTAs can ensure that all officials with a vested interest in preventing drug abuse, and especially the rise of heroin abuse, have a venue to discuss and implement their ideas and potential solutions.

The NY/NJ HIDTA has begun to take these important steps, organizing a meeting to bring federal, state and local officials from both the public health sphere and public safety sector together in order to streamline overdose data processing and try to pinpoint where abuse is most prevalent using data-driven approaches.  However, they cannot implement these strategies without our help.  I believe that increased funding is warranted considering the scope of the heroin crisis nationwide and the integral role HIDTAs play in ensuring the continued health and safety of our citizens.

Thank you for all your work on federal appropriations, and for your consideration of this important request.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator

Senator Schumer’s letter to the Department of Justice appears below as well:

Dear Attorney General Holder,

As you know, over the last several years the use of heroin has skyrocketed across the nation.  My home state of New York has been especially ravaged by this increase in abuse.  In Albany, heroin arrests have nearly doubled over the last two years, while total seizures have skyrocketed from under 100 grams in 2012 to over 1000 grams this year. All across the state, the price of a tenth of a gram has plummeted to roughly $10, which has effectively made heroin easier to acquire than other opioids such as hydrocodone or oxycodone.  It has become so prevalent across the state that 35% of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s total seizures nationwide have been by New York agents.

In 2010, as a result of an offshore gambling case, US v. Gurian & Lasso, that began in the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, nearly $10 million dollars was seized by the Department of Justice.  Of these funds, nearly $6 million were allocated the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, but that money is currently tied up in the bureaucratic process.  I ask that you expedite the release of these funds so that they can be put to use fighting the ongoing battle against dangerous drugs such as heroin and other opioids.

Thank you for your continued commitment to protecting our nations’ citizens and I look forward to hearing from you on this important matter.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator