SCHUMER URGES PRESIDENT TO SIGN BILL ON DESK THAT WOULD GIVE JFK AIRPORT HIGH-TECH DETECTION MACHINES NEEDED TO STOP HIDDEN & DEADLY FENTANYL BEFORE IT’S SMUGGLED ONTO NY STREETS; SENATOR THEN WANTS NYC TO BE AMONGST FIRST CITIES TO RECEIVE HANDHELD DEVICES THAT CAN HELP CHOKE OFF TRAFFICKING & STOP THE OPIOID SCOURGE
JFK Has Been A Major Point Of Entry For Fentanyl Smuggling & Also Has An International Mail Processing Center; Drugs That Make It Out Of JFK Go All Over The Northeast; This Tech Can Help Derail Trafficking Across the Region
Once President Signs Bi-Partisan Schumer-Backed Bill Known As The INTERDICT Act, Senator Wants Portable Chemical Detection Technology To Land At JFK ASAP & Intercept Illicit Fentanyl
Schumer: New York Is Just One Signature Away From Writing A New Chapter In The Opioid Scourge
Amidst the continued opioid scourge plaguing the nation and robbing New York lives, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today urged the President to immediately sign a recently passed bipartisan bill he helped push that will help cutoff the flow of illicit fentanyl from China, Mexico, and other countries into New York via JFK Airport. The “International Narcotics Trafficking Emergency Response by Detecting Incoming Contraband with Technology Act,” also known as the INTERDICT Act, will give U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) new hi-tech—and portable—tools and personnel to improve detection capabilities and increase the seizure of illicit fentanyl shipped to the U.S. from abroad through mail and express consignment carriers.
“Now that Congress has passed the INTERDICT Act, New York is just one signature away from writing a new chapter in the opioid scourge,” said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. “This new law will make sure our ports of entry, field labs and international mail facilities have access to more handheld chemical scanners to test suspicious substances and provide vital real-time data on its source. That means narcotics, like illicit fentanyl, can be quickly detected, identified and seized on the spot—and it means our diligent screening staff is more safe because they will not have to risk their own safety to expose dangerous substances.”
And Schumer today further pushed CBP to ensure New York City is amongst the first cities to receive these high-tech detection devices. Schumer said that JFK International Airport is a major point of entry for smuggling fentanyl, especially from overseas, and needs the new equipment to effectively examine the packages and intercept masked substances. The seized packages can then be used to provide agents with key intelligence on where the drugs are coming from and what to look for next.
Schumer continued, “As a major port of entry, JFK International Airport should be amongst the first locations to receive new high-tech drug scanners once this bill is signed into law.”
In FY2017, more than 81 pounds of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids were seized via international mail and private carriers. In New York, approximately one million pieces of mail enter the JFK International mail facility each day, roughly 60 percent of the nation’s international mail. According to reports, seizures of fentanyl at the JFK International mail center increased from 7 in 2016 to 84 in 2017, all from China. Most recently, in October, two postal packages containing 725 grams of fentanyl, arrived at JFK Airport and was sent to a home in Mastic Beach, on Long Island, before it was ultimately seized by authorities. The packages originally came from Hong Kong.
Drugs have also been seized via commercial flights at JFK Airport. For instance, this past October, 17 individuals were charged with operating a drug ring that transported cocaine and heroin on commercial flights to JFK Airport from Arizona.
Schumer explained that fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times stronger than heroin, has quickly swept into New York and is wreaking havoc and destroying families across the city and Long Island. According to the New York City Health Department, in 2016, there were 1,374 drug overdose deaths in New York City; fentanyl was found in 44 percent of those overdose deaths. Of the five neighborhoods with the highest opioid-related overdose rates in 2015 and 2016, four were in the Bronx. Seventy-six percent of the 308 deaths reported in 2016, involved heroin or fentanyl specifically. On Long Island, according to Newsday, there were 303 opioid-related deaths in Suffolk County in 2016, including 171 related to fentanyl; in Nassau County, there were 190 opioid-related deaths in 2016, including 62 related to fentanyl. In total, at least 233 Long Islands were killed by fentanyl.
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 for illicit fentanyl smuggled into the United States. Fentanyl suppliers then use methods to mislabel shipments or conceal them inside legitimate goods, like baby powder, candles or laundry detergent, in order to avoid CBP detection. The labs that make synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, and take advantage of CBP’s limited capabilities to screen international packages, know that fentanyl 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.
In FY 2017, CBP seized approximately 1,296 pounds of fentanyl, more than double the seized amount in FY16.
Moreover, law enforcement has begun to warn about new and more-deadly potent varieties of fentanyl being found in the United States, shipped here from overseas manufacturers. Specifically, law enforcement has been concerned about the emergence of “3-methylfentanyl” as well as “Carfentanil,” which is one of the strongest opioids in the fentanyl class of drugs. Carfentanil, which is an opioid used to tranquilize elephants, is 100 times more potent than fentanyl and has been found in Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, New York, and New England.
To address the challenges CBP faces in detecting and intercepting these drugs, Senators Edward Markey (D-MA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) introduced the INTERDICT Act in March of 2017 in order to provide CBP with ample tools to identify illicit drugs and prevent them from coming across the border. Schumer, who has a history of working to get CBP resources and equipment necessary to keeping our ports and borders safe, was a staunch and early supporter of the bi-partisan legislation. The bill passed Congress unanimously on December 29, 2017.
Specifically, the INTERDICT Act:
- Ensures that CBP will have additional portable chemical screening devices available at ports of entry and mail and express consignment facilities, and additional fixed chemical screening devices available in CBP laboratories.
- Provides CBP with sufficient resources, personnel, and facilities – including scientists available during all operational hours – to interpret screening test results from the field.
- Authorizes – based on CBP guidance – the appropriation of $9 million for hundreds of new screening devices, laboratory equipment, facilities, and personnel for support during all operational hours.
Schumer explained CBP, which is 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. CBP has a number of tools it uses to screen contraband smuggled into the United States at the border or through the mail. When it encounters a suspicious substance, it can be difficult to detect the source of the illicit material and whether it poses a hazard to them. In order to confront this challenge, CBP has had success with screening and identifying illicit drugs, like fentanyl, with the help of hi-tech, handheld chemical screening devices. The INTERDICT Act ensures that CBP has 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.
Now that the INTERDICT Act has passed Congress, Schumer urged the President to immediately sign the bill into law and make sure JFK Airport is prioritized. Schumer today said because JFK Airport is a major port of entry for fentanyl, and trafficking hub for the broader northeast region, it should be one of the first locations to receive new hi-tech scanning machines. The new technology will enable officers on the frontlines to more efficiently intercept fentanyl and prevent its spread into New York and throughout communities across the country.
Schumer's letter to CBP appears below:
Dear Acting Commissioner Kevin McAleenan:
I write today to urge you to commit vital resources to halt the flow of illicit drugs into the state of New York. I am proud to have supported the recently passed bi-partisan INTERDICT Act, which will provide additional tools and technology to U.S Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to better detect and intercept the unlawful importation of illicit fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. As this legislation is implemented and you evaluate how to allocate these crucial resources, I respectfully request that you include New York as a top priority and ensure that major New York City ports of entry (POE) and international mail facilities are the first to receive the additional equipment and personnel. New York has been particularly besieged by the drug trade, and the new detection technology is needed now more than ever to beat back the scourge of narcotics.
As you know, H.R. 2142, the INTERDICT Act, was passed by the Senate in December of last year and currently awaits the President’s signature. Once signed into law, this bill will provide CBP with essential resources to purchase handheld chemical screening devices and hire scientists to more swiftly interpret the results. The cutting edge technology will allow CBP agents on the front lines of U.S. ports to conduct real-time tests on concealed packages, allowing them to gather instant data, and in turn, protect the officers from exposure to fatal substances. Until now, dealers across the world have taken advantage of CBP’s limited capabilities to screen international packages, often taking steps to mislabel shipments or conceal the drugs inside legitimate goods to avoid CBP detection. These surreptitious techniques have had a disproportionate impact in my home state of New York, where the JFK International Airport processes 60% of U.S.-bound international mail and custom agents examine more than a million packages per day. In fact, fentanyl seizures at the JFK airport nearly tripled to nearly 80 packages over the last fiscal year – about 40% of the nation’s fentanyl supply. Sending this technology to New York custom agents would ensure those on the front lines are armed with the tools they need to beat back the flow of shipped drugs and prevent the substances from entering our communities in the first place.
This new technology could mean the difference between life and death in my home state of New York and across the country. Nearly 64,000 people died from overdoses in the United States in 2016, the highest in the nation’s history. The crisis has hit my home state of New York especially hard with deaths from drug overdoses reaching epidemic levels across all five boroughs. Statistics from the New York Health Department show that synthetic opioids, which includes fentanyl, were involved in almost 80% of opioid-related overdoses that occurred in New York State counties – excluding NYC. In the City itself, fentanyl contributed to 1,374 overdoses in 2016, an increase of more than three times the 2015 level. And just last year, NYC agents seized enough fentanyl to kill 32 million people, the largest such bust in U.S. history. These devastating numbers paint a clear picture for why we must increase our defenses and choke off the supply of illicit substances.
As you assess CBP’s implementation of INTERDICT and plan the distribution of the new chemical screening devices, I hope you will seriously consider placing the resources in key New York POEs. I thank you for taking the time to consider this idea and for your dedicated efforts to keeping the citizens of New York and the United States safe. I look forward to hearing from you and to working with you on these issues in the future.
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