WITH HEROIN USAGE SKYROCKETING IN CAPITAL REGION, SCHUMER CALLS FOR EMERGENCY ANTI-DRUG TRAFFICKING FUNDING SURGE TO COMBAT PROBLEM – CAPITAL REGION HAS BECOME NEXUS POINT FOR HEROIN BETWEEN NYC & VT, RESULTING IN SHARP INCREASE IN HEROIN OVERDOSES & ARRESTS
Over Past Two Years, Heroin Use in Capital Region Has Skyrocketed; Drugs Flow Into Region from NYC & Vermont – Funding Would Help Disrupt Heroin Pipeline
Schumer Calls for an Emergency Surge Of $100M for Fed-Designated High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Like Albany County; Senator Is Pushing for Funding As Part of Upcoming Appropriations Process – Schumer Also Announces Push To Unlock $6 Million in Funding Set To Help Albany Combat Heroin That Is Currently Being Held Up At DOJ
Schumer: We All Saw the Horrors Caused By the Crack Epidemic When Left Unchecked by Feds & Other Law Enforcement – Can’t Let Capital Region Become Hotbed for Heroin
Today, in the rotunda at the Albany County Court House, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer, alongside local law enforcement officials, Kevin and Diane Flood, and Patty Farrell, called for an emergency $100 million surge of federal anti-drug trafficking funding in order to quickly combat the growing heroin problem in the Capital Region. Schumer noted that over the past couple of years, heroin overdoses and arrests have skyrocketed in the region, particularly because of Albany’s location between Vermont, one of the main epicenters of heroin abuse, and New York City, a major point along the East Coast heroin pipeline. Schumer said he is pushing for these federal funds to be allocated to federally-designated High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) like Albany County to give local law enforcement the boost in funding they need to better assess the unique drug trafficking patterns forming in the region.
Schumer also announced that he is urging the federal Department of Justice to unlock over $6 million in funding owed to Albany County law enforcement. Schumer explained that this is money that was seized in cases jointly investigated by the feds and local law enforcement, which DOJ owes back to the county, but it is currently mired in bureaucratic red tape in Washington. Schumer said that this funding should be sent to Albany County as soon as possible so it can be put to good use in combating the drug trade.
“Over the past couple of years the Capital Region has begun to emerge as a major hub of the heroin trade, leading to a sharp increase in trafficking and overdoses that is tearing families and communities apart. The funding this area receives from the federal government to combat the drug trade and coordinate law enforcement efforts is simply not enough, and we need to deliver more funding before it’s too late,” said Schumer. “We all remember the horrors caused by the crack epidemic when it was left unchecked by federal officials and other law enforcement, and that’s why I am urging my colleagues in Congress to provide $100 million in extra federal anti-drug tracking dollars for HIDTA counties like Albany so that we can adequately crack down on drugs traveling through the Capital Region.”
Schumer continued, “I am also calling on the Department of Justice to unlock more than $6 million in funding that is owed to Albany County. This funding will be put to much better use combating the region’s heroin scourge than being tied up in red tape in Washington.”
Schumer was joined by Kevin and Diane Flood, parents of a child addicted to heroin; Patty Farrell, a former police detective who lost her daughter to the heroin scourge; Courtney Lovell, a recovering heroin addict who now works with young people who have fallen into addiction; Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple; and other law enforcement officials.
“Funding is a vital component in combating the heroin epidemic. I applaud Senator Schumer's effort in fighting for this assistance to help keep our communities safe,” said Craig Apple, Albany County Sheriff.
Schumer urged his colleagues on the Senate Appropriations Committee to boost funding for the HIDTA program from $238,522,000 to $338,522,000. Schumer said that this would provide HIDTA counties like Albany, which are in dire need of emergency assistance, with an additional $100 million. The Office of National Drug Control Policy's HIDTA program has been instrumental in the fight against prescription drug abuse, and as they turn their attention to heroin, Schumer said in his letter that they need our continued support.
The purpose of the HIDTA program 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. There are currently 28 HIDTAs, which include approximately 16 percent of all counties in the United States and 60 percent of the U.S. population. 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.
Schumer said that this emergency surge of funding will help strengthen the unique intelligence, surveillance and coordination that HIDTA provides, which is critical in tracking and dismantling drug rings, particularly the type of trafficking that has begun to take hold in the Capital Region. To explain the uptick in heroin trafficking and abuse in the Capital Region, Schumer pointed to the NY/NJ HIDTA 2015 Threat Assessment Report, which notes, “the Albany area functions as a major regional distribution hub, with individuals traveling from neighboring states including Vermont, Massachusetts, as well as rural areas of northern New York to purchase heroin.”
Schumer noted that Albany County is already designated as a HIDTA, and both the Rensselaer and Schenectady County Sheriffs serve on the local HIDTA task force, meaning that the entire region benefits from Albany’s HIDTA designation. In addition, Schumer noted that many Hudson Valley counties, as well as New York City, have a HIDTA designation as well, meaning that any surge in funding for the entire HIDTA program would help disrupt the pipeline that brings heroin from New York City, through the Hudson Valley up to the Capital Region, and on to Vermont.
Schumer also announced that he is urging the federal DOJ to unlock over $6 million in funding that is owed to Albany County law enforcement as a result of a $10 million offshore gambling case that started in the Albany Sheriff's office. Schumer explained that, because the case originated in Albany County, the county is owed a significant portion of the money that was confiscated – $6 million in this case. However, Schumer said, this funding is currently mired in bureaucratic red tape in Washington. Schumer said that this funding should be sent to Albany County as soon as possible so it can be put to good use in combating the drug trade.
According to the Department of Justice, heroin availability has increased since 2012, most likely due to an increase in Mexican heroin production and Mexican traffickers expanding into the eastern and Midwest U.S. markets. According to the Special Narcotics Prosecutor for the City of New York and a report from the New York Times, the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico has been using cocaine trafficking routes to export heroin. The report notes that approximately 35 percent of heroin seized by the DEA since October occurred in New York State. According to New York State Poison Control, in Albany, Montgomery, Rensselaer, Saratoga, and Schenectady Counties, the total number of exposures, overdoses, call-ins, and deaths reported between 2010 and 2014 increased by 58 percent.
Schumer said that 4.2 million Americans ages 12 and older reportedly have used heroin at least once. According to the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, heroin availability and abuse has increased significantly in Albany County because it is more cost effective. According to the police, heroin users in many nearby rural counties travel to Albany, where the addictive narcotic sells for $10 per bag or $100 per bundle. The Addictions Care Center of Albany has also seen admissions for opiate addiction increase by 75 percent within the last few years. According to the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, there were 32 total arrests in 2012 for the possession or sale of heroin, specifically. In 2013, this increased to 49 arrests due to the possession or sale of heroin. And in 2014, there were 59 arrests for the possession or sale of heroin in Albany County. According to the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, the total weight in heroin seized by police in 2014 was 1636 grams, or $180,000 in street value. This is drastically up from the 894 grams totaling $89,500 seized in 2013 and the 77 grams totaling $7,700 seized in 2012.
Schumer said that this startling trend in the Capital Region shows that drug arrests, and more specifically heroin arrests, are on the rise. As of November 2014, there were 283 drug-related incarcerations at the Albany County Correctional Facility alone. This is up from the 252 incarcerations in 2013 and the 224 intakes in 2012.
Schumer also noted various major heroin busts in the region over the past couple of years as he made his case for the need for more funding for HIDTA counties:
· In March of 2012, a multi-state drug bust implicating more than 50 gang-connected people was announced in Albany.
· Also in 2012, nine Schenectady residents were indicted in federal court after being accused of taking part in a Schenectady-based heroin distribution ring.
· In 2013, over a three-month period, Saratoga Springs police, with the help of the Drug Enforcement Agency, busted 18 people involved in a large-scale drug distribution network in Saratoga Springs.
· In August 2014, four members of a major heroin dealing ring that sold the drug at the Crossgates and Colonie Center malls by using children ages 6, 8, and 10 and through taxi drivers were arrested. Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple said it was one of the largest drug busts in the Capital Region’s history and that the dealers came from both New York City and Vermont. The estimated the street value of the drugs recovered was $160,000.
· Also in 2014, two Troy men were arrested for the possession of heroin after being stopped at a traffic light on the Thruway. Schumer said the Thruway serves as a major travel route for many of these drugs, as it is the primary travel route between New York City and Vermont.
A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee appears below:
Dear Chairwoman Mikulski and Ranking Member Shelby,
As you continue your hard work on the FY2015 Omnibus Appropriations, I respectfully write to request your support for funding to a federal program that is in dire need of increased support.
Over the last several years, a disturbing and dangerous trend has begun to emerge. Heroin, a drug once thought of as only for the most serious of drug users, has infiltrated our cities, towns, and local schools. My home state of New York has been especially ravaged by this increase in abuse. In Albany, heroin arrests have nearly doubled over the last two years, while total heroin seizures have skyrocketed from under 100 grams in 2012 to over 1000 grams this year. All across the state, the price of a tenth of a gram has plummeted to roughly $10, which has effectively made heroin easier to acquire than other opioids such as hydrocodone or oxycodone. It has become so prevalent across the state that 35% of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s total seizures nationwide have been by New York agents.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has been instrumental in the fight against prescription drug abuse, and as they turn their attention to heroin, they need our continued support. That is why I am asking that this year you increase funding for the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) Program to $338,522,000. I realize this level is significantly higher than the fiscal year 2014 approved appropriation as well as the recommendation of the President; however it is imperative that we assist local officials in every way possible to prevent heroin from becoming more of a crisis than it already is. The crack epidemic in the 1980’s is an example of what can happen when a dangerous drug is left unchecked by federal officials, and we must take action. Not only has the HIDTA program been essential to New York, but it has helped facilitate cooperation and information sharing among law enforcement agencies and public health officials alike all across the country. They provide vital technical and substantive support to local law enforcement as they work cases from beginning to end, trying to locate and track the individuals responsible for bringing this epidemic within our borders. As a federal program not directly tied to any one agency, the HIDTA program is uniquely positioned to serve as a platform to bring public safety and public health officials together as they both strive for the same goal: preventing dangerous drug abuse. ONDCP and HIDTAs can ensure that all officials with a vested interest in preventing drug abuse, and especially the rise of heroin abuse, have a venue to discuss and implement their ideas and potential solutions.
The NY/NJ HIDTA has begun to take these important steps, organizing a meeting to bring federal, state and local officials from both the public health sphere and public safety sector together in order to streamline overdose data processing and try to pinpoint where abuse is most prevalent using data-driven approaches. However, they cannot implement these strategies without our help. I believe that increased funding is warranted considering the scope of the heroin crisis nationwide and the integral role HIDTAs play in ensuring the continued health and safety of our citizens.
Thank you for all your work on federal appropriations, and for your consideration of this important request.
Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator
Senator Schumer’s letter to the Department of Justice appears below as well:
Dear Attorney General Holder,
As you know, over the last several years the use of heroin has skyrocketed across the nation. My home state of New York has been especially ravaged by this increase in abuse. In Albany, heroin arrests have nearly doubled over the last two years, while total seizures have skyrocketed from under 100 grams in 2012 to over 1000 grams this year. All across the state, the price of a tenth of a gram has plummeted to roughly $10, which has effectively made heroin easier to acquire than other opioids such as hydrocodone or oxycodone. It has become so prevalent across the state that 35% of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s total seizures nationwide have been by New York agents.
In 2010, as a result of an offshore gambling case, US v. Gurian & Lasso, that began in the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, nearly $10 million dollars was seized by the Department of Justice. Of these funds, nearly $6 million were allocated the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, but that money is currently tied up in the bureaucratic process. I ask that you expedite the release of these funds so that they can be put to use fighting the ongoing battle against dangerous drugs such as heroin and other opioids.
Thank you for your continued commitment to protecting our nations’ citizens and I look forward to hearing from you on this important matter.
Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator
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