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Senator Launches Push To Include In Upcoming Anti-Opioids Package New “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 Rochester-Finger Lakes Region Could Be A Game-Changer To Keep Police Officers Safe And Protect From Lethal Fentanyl OD’s

Standing at the Village of Holley Police Department in Orleans County, N.Y., U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today launched his push to pass the Providing Officers with Electronic Resources (POWER) Act as part of an upcoming package of bills to address the opioids crisis across Upstate New York and the United States. 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 Orleans County and throughout the Rochester-Finger Lakes region. 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 are up across the board in Orleans County this year. Schumer explained that fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times stronger than heroin, has quickly swept into the Rochester-Finger Lakes region, and is exacerbating the opioid epidemic which is already destroying families in Orleans County. In 2017, Orleans County had 43 overdoses and 8 fatal drug overdoses. Additionally, in 2017, 224 people from Orleans County were admitted into chemical dependency programs. So far in 2018, Orleans County has already had 36 overdoses and 7 fatal overdoses. 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 Orleans County District Attorney Joe Cardone, Police Chief of Holly & Albion Village Police Departments Roland Nenni, Supervising Investigator of the Orleans County Major Felony Crime Task Force Joe Sacco, and Orleans County Administrator Chuck Nesbitt.

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 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 in order to better detect illicit fentanyl and protect field officers from exposure.

Today, Schumer called on his colleagues to immediately pass the POWER Act on its own or as part of the Opioid Crisis Response Act.  The Opioid Crisis Response Act would authorize sweeping new initiatives to combat the opioid crisis by boosting prevention and treatment assistance, improving detection and seizure of illegal drugs shipped into the U.S., such as fentanyl, through stronger FDA and Customs and Border Protection coordination, and strengthening support for state and local law enforcement.  For example, the bill would reauthorize and improve the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Program, including the Rochester and Buffalo HIDTA task forces which have provided resources and assistance to the Orleans County Major Felony Crime Task Force to investigate and arrest fentanyl dealers. For example, in May 2018, the HIDTA-funded Greater Rochester Area Narcotics Enforcement Team (GRANET), partnered with the Orleans County Major Felony Task Force, arrested four people in Rochester who are alleged to have sold and distributed fentanyl that law enforcement officials believe are responsible for the recent spike of fatal and non-fatal drug overdoses in Orleans County. During the arrests, police seized 33 grams of fentanyl, and six grams of heroin. Similarly in February, GRANET partnered with the Orleans County Major Felony Task Force, Albion Police, and Rochester Police to investigate and arrest a Rochester resident that was a major supplier of heroin/fentanyl mixture to Orleans County dealers. The investigation identified at least 30 individuals residing in Orleans County that were being supplied with heroin and fentanyl. Police seized heroin/fentanyl packaged for sale, more than an ounce of heroin/fentanyl in process of being packaged for sale, as well as cocaine packaged for sale, cash, scales, packaging material and other drug paraphernalia.

Joe Sacco, Supervising Investigator of the Orleans County Major Felony Crime Task Force said, “The field drug test kits used today require our officers to handle drugs which is very dangerous for us since deadly drugs like Fentanyl can kill by just touching them.  We appreciate Senator Schumer’s push to make better high-tech drug screening equipment available to protect our local law enforcement and help them to take down dealers and remove fentanyl from our communities.”

Roland Nenni, Chief of Police for both the Albion and Holley Police Departments said, “While local police departments like Holley and Albion are on the front lines of this opioid and fentanyl crisis, it is a national epidemic hitting communities across the nation.  We need assistance from our Federal partners. That’s why we appreciate Senator Schumer’s push for additional federal funding and resources to combat the flow of fentanyl, make better drug detection equipment available to local law enforcement to reduce dangers and aid investigations, and boost education, prevention and treatment.”  

Orleans County District Attorney Joe Cardone said, “Thank you Senator Schumer for your commitment to empowering local law enforcement to deal with the many dangers that we are confronted with by this current Fentanyl epidemic.  This is an excellent example of different levels of government working together in an effective manner to combat the serious issues illegal drugs present to our community.  This is not just a big city problem. Orleans County, like every other community throughout the country is dealing every day with the catastrophic consequences of opiate addiction and the mayhem it is causing for individuals and their families.”

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 like Orleans County 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.