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Schumer: Bipartisan Bill Will Provide Feds With More Resources: Including Additional Border Agents And Scientists, Drug Labs, Training & New Portable Devices To Detect & Intercept Illicit Fentanyl And Other Synthetic Opioids 

Senator Says Central New York Has Experienced An Explosion Of Drug Use Including Fentanyl-Laced Heroin & Meth, As Well As Drug-Related Crime 

Schumer: Feds Need More Resources To Shutdown Stream Of Fentanyl From Ever Reaching Cortland County 

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer today joined local law enforcement officials to announce his support for bipartisan legislation that would help cutoff the flow of illicit fentanyl from China, Mexico, and other countries into Central New York and across the United States. With fentanyl increasingly making its way onto the streets of Cortland and the rest of Central New York, Schumer launched a major effort to both push the International Narcotics Trafficking Emergency Response by Detecting Incoming Contraband with Technology Act, also known as the INTERDICT Act, and provide additional resources to confront the epidemic. The legislation, introduced by Senator Markey (MA), would give U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) the hi-tech tools and resources needed to improve detection capabilities and increase the seizure of illicit fentanyl shipped to the U.S. from abroad through mail and express consignment carriers. Schumer said he would work with his colleagues to take action on this issue that is destroying families in New York and the rest of the country.

“These deadly substances are being delivered to our homes, being sold on our streets, and destroying our families. We know how they get here and where they come from, now we need to give CBP the resources to stop this flood and help save lives,” said Senator Schumer. “The INTERDICT Act will provide those on the frontlines with hi-tech tools that can root out fentanyl and other synthetic opioids that are leading to tragic deaths here in Cortland and throughout Central New York. The devastation these drugs cause is not a partisan issue, and I’ll be fighting hard to get my colleagues on board to help push this bill through the Senate.”

Schumer explained that fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times stronger than heroin, has quickly swept into Central New York, and is exacerbating the opioid epidemic which is already destroying families here in Cortland County. According to the most recent data from New York State, there were eight fatal opioid overdoses in Cortland County in 2015. In addition to these deaths, from January 2015 to September 2016, Cortland County hospitals and emergency departments saw over 50 visits related to heroin and opioid overdoses. Residents here visited substance abuse treatment programs over 500 times during that same time frame. In addition, New York State reports that Naloxone was administered over 100 times in Cortland County in 2015-2016. The crisis is also severe in neighboring Onondaga County, which saw 70 deaths related to heroin and opioid overdoses in 2015. Local hospitals and emergency departments there experienced over 800 visits related to the epidemic from January 2015 to September 2016. And Onondaga County law enforcement and EMS providers administered Naloxone over 1000 times in 2015-16, according to New York State.

The crisis was brought further into the spotlight earlier this month after a grand jury indicted over 100 people from across the state, including two individuals from Cortland County, for trafficking drugs like heroin and fentanyl into St. Lawrence County, which 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 this bust demonstrates why CBP needs 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 CBP detection. In 2016, CBP 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 CBP’s limited capabilities to screen international packages, know that fentanyl is extremely lucrative for dealers and cartels, who can sell $3000 to $5000 in fentanyl purchased from a Chinese drug laboratory for up to $1.5 million on the street. 

To address these challenges, Senators Edward Markey (D-MA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) introduced the bi-partisan INTERDICT Act in March of 2017 to ensure that CBP has tools to identify illicit drugs and prevent them from coming across the border. Schumer, who has a history of working to get CBP the resources and equipment necessary to keep our ports and borders safe, announced his support for the bi-partisan legislation.

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 $15 million for hundreds of new screening devices, laboratory equipment, facilities, and personnel for support during all operational hours.

Schumer’s push comes as law enforcement have 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 is also very concerned with the emergence of “3-methylfentanyl,” as well as “Carfentanil,” 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. 

Schumer was joined by Cortland County Sherriff Mark Helms, Cortland County District Attorney Patrick Perfetti, City of Cortland Mayor Brian Tobin, Cortland County Public Health Director Catherine Fuerherm and City of Cortland Fire Chief Charles Glover and other elected and community officials.

“As District Attorney I've launched a three Point Anti-Drug Initiative focused on: 1) Education and Prevention, 2) Diversion and Treatment, and 3) Enforcement and Prosecution. My office, through its affiliation with the Drug Task Force, will continue to pursue investigative efforts with Federal authorities. Though Drug Task Force officers are aware that fentanyl is in counties near ours, Cortland has been fortunate in not having suffered a fentanyl overdoes to date. Of particular concern to the residents of Cortland is the number of meth’ manufacturing cases we see. “Beyond meth’ Cortland County is particularly concerned about the opioid epidemic and how this migrates over to heroin use,” said Patrick Perfetti, District Attorney.

"I support and applaud Senator Schumer for his efforts with the INTERDICT Act. Unfortunately, Cortland County is not exempt from the Heroin, fentanyl, and opiate epidemic that our country is facing. Local law enforcement is doing all it can to help keep our communities as safe as possible. Far too many of our young people are dying and we can use all the help we can get to help combat this growing drug problem,” said Mark E. Helms, Sheriff.

“I would support any law or initiative to assist law enforcement with illegal drug interdiction. Cortland is not immune to the ravages of the opioid epidemic, as we have had our fair share of drug seizures and overdose cases and fatalities just as the rest of the country. I applaud any bipartisan effort to assist us in ending this scourge,” said Michael Catalano, Police Chief.

“The opioid epidemic is destroying the lives of individuals and families in our community. A substance like fentanyl –  a drug that is more deadly and responsible for the large increase in overdoses we have seen throughout New York State – only makes fighting the opioid epidemic more challenging. Any legislation that will help stem the flow of fentanyl and other dangerous substances into our community will make it easier for law enforcement, prevention, treatment and recovery agencies to address the opioid epidemic,” said Matthew Whitman, Coalition Director of Cortland Area Communities That Care.

Schumer noted that with Upstate New York’s proximity to the international border with Canada, it’s even more critical to strengthen our border screening ability. Schumer explained that 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 CBP 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 the face of this challenge, CBP has had success with screening and determining illicit drugs, like fentanyl, with the help of high-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.