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On The Heels Of Schumer Securing Historic Levels Of Funding For Opioid Treatment And Prevention, Senator Launches A Major Push To Augment New Treatment Funds, By Supporting A New Grant Program To Help Local PD Pay For “High-Tech Chemical Detection Tool” To Sniff Out Illegal Drugs Like Illicit Fentanyl

According To Drug Enforcement Experts, It Only Takes A Grain Of Fentanyl To Cause A Deadly Reaction; Senator Says Congress Must Do Everything Possible To Keep PD Safe  

Schumer: Deploying New Tech Across North Country Could Be A Game-Changer To Keep Police Officers Safe

Standing at Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital, on the heels of securing historic levels of funding for opioid treatment and prevention, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced his support of the Providing Officers with Electronic Resources (POWER) Act. According to Schumer, the bipartisan bill originally introduced by Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rob Portman’s (R-OH) creates a new grant program through the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) that will help state and local law enforcement secure new high-tech, portable screening devices to quickly, effectively, and safely identify dangerous drugs like fentanyl, in the field.

“The opioid epidemic has ravaged communities in Clinton County and throughout the North Country. It is not only ripping families apart it is also putting our law enforcement officials at risk by exposing them to illegal and fatal substances such as fentanyl,” said Senator Schumer. “And it is our responsibility to protect the men and women who bravely put themselves in harm’s way to ensure the public safety of our communities by providing them with the proper resources to do their job. This bill and these screening devices will help keep law enforcement safe and allow them to work more efficiently while on the front lines fighting the opioid epidemic ravaging our communities.” 

Schumer explained that fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times stronger than heroin, has quickly swept into the North Country, and is exacerbating the opioid epidemic which is already destroying families in Clinton County. According to the most recent data from New York State, there were eight fatal opioid overdoses in Clinton County in 2016. Schumer said first responders and law enforcement are at increased risk since they come in contact with the drugs on the field.

The crisis was brought further into the spotlight last year when a grand jury indicted over 100 people from across New York State for trafficking drugs like heroin and fentanyl into St. Lawrence County, which like Clinton County shares a border with Canada, and then distributing these narcotics throughout the state. Nearly two dozen local, state and federal agencies teamed up to take down two drug rings, dubbed “Operation Gravy Train.” Law enforcement officials recovered nearly $100,000 worth of heroin and fentanyl. Schumer said that the bust demonstrates why law enforcement officials need even more tools to stop these drugs from flowing into our state in the first place.

Although pharmaceutical fentanyl can be misused, most of the fentanyl being sold on the street is illicitly manufactured. While distributors in China are the principal source of the precursor chemicals used to manufacture the drug, as well as a source for finished-product illicit fentanyl and fentanyl analogs, Mexico is the primary source of illicit fentanyl smuggled into the United States. Fentanyl suppliers then use methods such as mislabeling shipments or concealing the drug inside legitimate goods in order to avoid law enforcement detection. In 2016, law enforcement officials seized nearly 200 pounds of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, primarily from along the southwest border. This is a 25-fold increase over seizures in 2015. Between 2014 and 2015, deaths involving synthetic opioids, which include fentanyl, increased by 72 percent, taking more than 9,500 lives. The labs that make these synthetic opioids and take advantage of law enforcement officials’ limited capabilities to detect fentanyl. Schumer added 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 was joined by Michele LeBeau, Sr. VP and COO, of Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital, Chief Levi Ritter, Plattsburgh Police Department, Clinton County Sheriff David Favro, Constance Wille, Champlain Valley Family Services, and other local practitioners and community leaders.

To address these challenges, Senator Schumer joined Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Rob Portman (R-OH), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) to introduce the bi-partisan POWER ACT to ensure that law enforcement agencies have the tools to identify illicit drugs and prevent them from coming across the border. Schumer, who has a history of working to get law enforcement the resources and equipment necessary to keep our communities safe, announced his support for the bi-partisan legislation.

Specifically, the Schumer backed POWER Act would do the following:

  • The bill specifically, creates a new grant program through the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to help state and local law enforcement organizations secure these high-tech, portable screening devices.  
  • Provides law enforcement officials with sufficient resources, personnel, and facilities – including scientists available during all operational hours – to interpret screening test results from the field.  
  • Authorizes – based on federal guidance – the appropriation of $15 million for hundreds of new screening devices, laboratory equipment, facilities, and personnel for support during all operational hours.

Schumer noted that with the North Country’s proximity to the international border with Canada, it’s even more critical to strengthen our border screening ability. Schumer explained that law enforcement officials in Plattsburgh and beyond are on the front lines of the U.S. effort to stop fentanyl from crossing into our borders from abroad, requires these additional resources to keep ahead of fentanyl manufacturers looking to ship drugs into the United States. 

Law enforcement officials already have a number of tools it uses to screen contraband smuggled into the United States at the border or through the mail. For example, when border officials encounter a suspicious substance, it can be difficult to detect the source of the illicit material and whether it poses a hazard to them. In the face of this challenge, law enforcement agencies across the North Country have had success with screening and determining illicit drugs, like fentanyl, with the help of high-tech, handheld chemical screening devices. The POWER Act ensures that law enforcement in Plattsburgh and beyond have access to additional portable chemical screening devices and extra personnel in their laboratories, in order to better interpret tests gathered from the field, and minimize agent’s exposure to dangerous substances.