10.19.18

SCHUMER: CUTTING-EDGE TECHNOLOGY COULD HELP HERKIMER COUNTY POLICE DEPARTMENTS QUICKLY & EFFECTIVELY IDENTIFY LETHAL DRUGS LIKE FENTANYL; SENATOR SAYS CONGRESS SHOULD IMMEDIATELY PASS NEW GRANT PROGRAM TO HELP LOCAL POLICE PAY FOR HIGH-TECH TOOL

Senator Launches Push To Pass “POWER Act” Grant Program To Help Local Police Pay For High-Tech Chemical Detection Tool To Sniff Out Illegal Drugs Like 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 The Public and Police Safe

Schumer: Deploying New Tech Across The Mohawk Valley Could Be A Game-Changer To Keep Police Officers Safe And Protect From Lethal Fentanyl OD’s

Standing outside the Old Historic Court House in Herkimer, N.Y., U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today continued his push to pass the Providing Officers with Electronic Resources (POWER) Act. According to Schumer, the bipartisan bill originally introduced by Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rob Portman (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. Schumer explained that the opioid crisis requires an all-hands-on-deck and an all-of-the-above approach, and that the POWER Act will give law enforcement the tools they need to address it on the ground level.

“The opioid epidemic has ravaged communities in Herkimer County and throughout the Mohawk Valley. 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 said that overdoses and fatalities have plagued Herkimer and Oneida Counties in recent years. Schumer explained that fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times stronger than heroin, has quickly swept into the Mohawk Valley, and is exacerbating the opioid epidemic which is already destroying families in Herkimer and Oneida Counties. In 2017, according to most recent New York State Department of Health statistics, Herkimer and Oneida Counties had 208 overdoses and 51 fatal drug overdoses. Additionally, in 2017, 1,643 people from Herkimer and Oneida Counties were admitted into chemical dependency programs and 485 people were administered Naloxone. Schumer explained that these overdoses are from both heroin, and heroin combined with fentanyl or fentanyl analogs. Schumer said that this lethal combination of drugs is referred to as “Gray Death.”

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 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 law enforcement and elected officials from across Herkimer County.

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 bipartisan 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 authorize $20 million to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to create a new grant program to help state and local law enforcement organizations secure high-tech, portable screening devices – also known as interdiction devices -  in order to better detect illicit fentanyl and protect field officers from exposure. The devices can cost anywhere from $30,000 to $80,000 per unit, which makes them cost prohibitive for local law enforcement agencies relying on already tight municipal budgets.

Federal law enforcement officials have already deployed this drug scanning equipment 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, federal law enforcement agencies at U.S. ports of entry have had success with screening and determining illicit drugs, like fentanyl, with the help of these high-tech, handheld chemical screening devices. The POWER Act ensures that local law enforcement in communities in the Mohawk Valley and beyond can also afford to obtain this same technology and portable chemical screening devices, in order to better interpret tests gathered from the field, and minimize agent’s exposure to dangerous substances.

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