WITH DANGEROUS FENTANYL-LACED HEROIN SPIKING IN ROCHESTER & OVERDOSES DRAMATICALLY RISING, SCHUMER PUSHES TO REVERSE PRESIDENT’S PROPOSED CUT TO DRUG TRAFFICKING PROGRAM THAT ROCHESTER LAW ENFORCEMENT SAYS IS CRITICAL TO BREAKING UP LOCAL DRUG RINGS – LAUNCHES PUSH TO PREVENT CUT & RAISE FUNDING FOR PROGRAM BY $100M
Deadly Fentanyl-laced Heroin is Now Entering the Rochester Area & Over Half of All Heroin Deaths in Monroe County Are Linked To This New, More Dangerous Form of The Drug; Heroin Overdose Deaths In Rochester Are Up Over 300% Since 2012 & Drug-Related Crime Is Up As Well
Schumer Opposes Administration’s Plan to Cut Funding for the Fed. High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Program, Which Rochester Law Enforcement Credits With Helping To Fight Drug Trafficking & Provide The Surveillance, Equipment, & Coordination With Feds & Other PDs That Enabled RPD To Take Down A Complex Drug Ring Last Year – Will Call on Senate to Instead Boost HIDTA Program by $100M
Schumer: Now Is Not the Time To Cut Back Federal Funding to Combat Heroin Trafficking & Abuse in Rochester
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer, today at the Rochester Public Safety Building, in light of growing use of heroin in the Rochester region and the prevalence of new, more dangerous fentanyl-laced heroin, launched a push to prevent proposed cuts to a critical drug trafficking program that the Rochester Police Department (RPD) says is essential to their efforts to combat heroin and other drug trafficking. Schumer said that instead of being cut, the program – the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program – should receive a $100 million increase. Schumer highlighted that there were almost 100 heroin overdose deaths in Rochester last year, an over 300% increase from 2012; over half of these deaths are attributed to heroin laced with fentanyl, a powerful opioid, being packaged in Rochester under brand names such as “99 Problems,” “LeBron James,” and “Diesel.” Despite the increase in heroin overdoses and crime, the Administration surprisingly proposed cuts to the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program, which provides key resources to better assess unique drug trafficking patterns forming in the region and helped RPD bust a complex drug ring last year. The Administration’s budget proposal would cut HIDTA funding from $245 million to $193 million, which Schumer made clear today that he strongly opposes. Schumer said now is not the time to cut federal funding to combat heroin trafficking in Rochester, and he will push to increase HIDTA’s funding by $100 million in the Fiscal Year 2016 budget.
“Cutting critical drug trafficking funding, as heroin use continues to rise and kill more and more people in the Rochester area, does not make any sense. What’s more, with the emergence of highly deadly, fentanyl-laced heroin flooding into Rochester, now is clearly not the time to cut back on federal funding to combat heroin trafficking and abuse,” said Senator Schumer. “We all saw the horrors caused by the crack epidemic when left unchecked by the feds and other law enforcement and that’s why we need to increase HIDTA funding to help prevent areas like Rochester and Upstate New York from becoming a hotbed for heroin and newer, more dangerous forms laced with fentanyl. Heroin use and trafficking is on the rise and we need to reverse it now.”
Schumer explained that heroin that contains fentanyl is colorless and odorless, and creates a type of “super high” for users. Fentanyl is a schedule-II drug and a powerful opiate; it is fifty to 100 times more powerful than heroin and, according to media reports, and can be more potent than morphine. It is often used by doctors to treat patients with severe pain, and is commonly prescribed to people with chronic pain in extreme circumstances, such as end-state cancer patients. Mixing fentanyl with heroin, however, can make the drug lethal. Doing so increases its potency and exacerbates the dangers of the already-dangerous drug, including trouble breathing and increasingly likely overdose deaths. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently posted a warning about this “killer heroin,” and warned about the dangers of fentanyl-heroin mixtures. The DEA urged first responders to exercise extreme caution because fatal amounts of fentanyl can be directly absorbed through the skin just by touching it. This heroin laced with fentanyl is also being packaged and marketed by dealers in the Rochester area under brand names such as “99 Problems,” “LeBron James,” and “Diesel.”
Schumer said that, in order to combat this heroin scourge across Upstate New York, there is the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program, which helps counties address recent and disturbing upticks in heroin usage and drug-related crime by improving coordination among federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, as well as providing equipment, technology and additional resources to tackle this challenge. The HIDTA program funds intelligence-sharing initiatives, drug use prevention and drug treatment initiatives, as well as general support for programs that provide assistance to law enforcement beyond their normal scope of duty. The New York/New Jersey HIDTA is one of 28 HIDTAs nationwide, which include approximately 16 percent of all counties in the United States and 60 percent of the U.S. population. There are currently 21 counties in New York that are part of the NY/NJ HIDTA, including Monroe County, and each HIDTA assesses the drug trafficking threat in its defined area for the upcoming year, develops a strategy to address that threat, designs initiatives to implement the strategy, proposes funding needed to carry out the initiatives, and prepares an annual report describing its performance the previous year.
Because this program is critical for communities like Rochester and others across the country that are working to handle serious surges in heroin abuse and drug-related arrests and death, Schumer said that Congress should be increasing, not decreasing funding to strengthen this unique program. Schumer said that over the last year alone, there were nearly 100 heroin overdose deaths in Rochester, an over 300 percent increase from 2012; over half of these deaths were attributed to heroin laced with fentanyl. This critical program provides intelligence, surveillance and coordination and it has proven vital in the effort to track and dismantle drug rings, particularly those drug rings that are lacing their already-dangerous product with a deadly opioid. Schumer said that the recent uptick in heroin-related deaths and usage makes it clear that we should do be providing our experts with the resources necessary to fight thing trend. Schumer today opposed President Obama’s plan to cut funding from HIDTA and said that the Senate should increase funds by $100 million.
In the Rochester area, the lead anti-drug entity is the Greater Rochester Area Narcotics Enforcement Team (GRANET). GRANET is led by the RPD, but is comprised of officers from 11 local and federal police departments coordinating and operating in Monroe County. This includes the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, Brighton Police Department, Greece Police Department, East Rochester Police Department and Federal agencies like DEA, ATF, and U.S. Border Patrol. Schumer said HIDTA program funding and coordination is particularly important in Rochester because it supports GRANET efforts. Because GRANET is self-funded, it relies greatly upon the outside funding it receives from HIDTA, as well as seized assets. Therefore, HIDTA continues to be vital to allowing GRANET continue its work in seizing illegal drugs and coordinating area law enforcement activities across multiple jurisdictions in a focused ongoing effort in Monroe County. Schumer said it is areas like Rochester that rely on HIDTA, which is why its funding must be increased, rather than decreased, particularly when deaths and overdoses related to the newly laced fentanyl-heroin are on the rise.
HIDTA has helped cover the cost of equipment, overtime, wireless computers deployed to surveil drug rings, and funded officers to attend training. For example, in the Rochester area, HIDTA funding helped make a 7-month investigation in 2014 that broke up a complex drug ring possible. HIDTA covered overtime costs for GRANET officers to stay up on wiretaps to identify how large this drug distribution organization really was and uncover its safe houses that were set up around the country to deal with money transfers as well as illegal narcotics shipments. RPD officials said the HIDTA analysts, as well as DEA resources, were instrumental in identifying these locations as well as physically surveillance on the out-of-area locations. The cooperation between federal, state and local agencies allowed GRANET to operate its “command center” out of Rochester, where they were able to see the day-to-day activity at these locations. This allowed law enforcement officers to identify key players in the drug organization as well as direct law enforcement personnel to physically surveil these individuals when needed. This cooperation also allowed GRANET to identify when a large shipment of cocaine was bound for Rochester and eventually break up the drug ring.
“Rochester is a primary destination for illegal drug trafficking and a node from which drugs are then trafficked to the southern tier and surrounding counties. Especially with the drastic continued rise in heroin, we appreciate Senator Schumer’s efforts to push for important federal HIDTA funding that is vital to support our local Greater Rochester Area Narcotics Enforcement Team -- or GRANET – which has been instrumental in breaking up local drug rings,” said Rochester Police Chief Michael Ciminelli.
Schumer said that organizations like GRANET, which greatly benefit from HIDTA funding, could be severely undercut and their efforts undermined if funding for the program is diminished on the federal level. Another Rochester example Schumer pointed to is a new online database recently established by GRANET's HIDTA-funded analyst to share information between all levels of law enforcement in Western New York. GRANET says this will be open to narcotics officers from every law enforcement department across Western New York, where they will be able to share heroin-related case information that could lead to additional seizures and arrests. According to GRANET, if the organization received more HIDTA funding they could expand the type of forward thinking initiatives like this database as well as hire more officers for the GRANET task force. For this reason, Schumer urged federal appropriators to increase HIDTA funding by $100 million, rather than decrease it.
While the exact number of overdose deaths related to fentanyl-laced heroin is difficult to trace, given that the opioid is odorless and colorless and often goes undetected until toxicity screens are done on the body, the use of heroin and heroin overdose deaths have increased significantly in recent years. According to the Monroe County Medical Examiner, data for 2014 shows that 50 of the 94 heroin deaths just last year alone were due to the new Fentanyl-laced heroin being trafficked through the Rochester area. Half of the deaths happened in the last 3 months of 2014. The Monroe County Medical Examiner’s 2014 report revealed that the number of heroin overdose deaths in Rochester spiked 40 percent between 2013 and 2014. In 2013, there were 65 deaths in the Rochester area related to heroin use, while there were 29 in 2012 and 11 in 2011.
Under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 and the ONDCP Reauthorization Act of 2006, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) is authorized to declare areas that exhibit serious drug trafficking problems as HIDTAs if local law enforcement groups petition for the designation. Many in Upstate New York are already HIDTA-designated counties, meaning that they receive federal resources to combat drug trafficking and sales. There are currently 28 HIDTAs nationwide, which include approximately 16 percent of all counties in the United States and 60 percent of the U.S. population. HIDTA-designated counties are located in 46 states. The purpose of HIDTA is to reduce drug trafficking and production in the United States. The program’s goal is to facilitate cooperation among federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies; to share information and implement coordinated enforcement activities; to enhance intelligence sharing among law enforcement agencies as well as public health officials; to provide reliable law enforcement intelligence to law enforcement agencies to facilitate the design of effective enforcement strategies; and to support coordinated law enforcement strategies that make the most of available resources to reduce the supply of illegal drugs in the U.S.
Senator Schumer was joined by Rochester Police Chief Michael Ciminelli, Rochester Police Lieutenant Scott Peters, Director of DePaul’s National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence for Rochester Jennifer Faringer, Janice Holmes with the Family Recovery Network, and Lori Drescher a Rochester parent whose son was impacted by heroin addiction.