Pubdate: Mon, 01 Dec 2014
Source: Times Union (Albany, NY)
Copyright: 2014 Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation
Authors: Paul Grondahl and Matthew Hamilton


ALBANY -- U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer proposed on Monday a $100 million 
"heroin surge" to combat a sharp rise in heroin addiction and fatal 
overdoses that some public health officials have characterized as an epidemic.

The proposal calls for an additional $100 million emergency 
appropriation to the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area 
program. The money would help battle drug trafficking and heroin 
production, would bolster law reinforcement efforts and coordinate 
intelligence-sharing and drug enforcement efforts among local, state, 
federal and law enforcement agencies. Schumer said the money would 
aim to disrupt the heroin pipeline into the Capital Region from New 
York City and Vermont, which comes across the border from Canada.

"These people are killers," he said of drug dealers that local task 
forces could potentially better target with more funding. "We know 
they're trying to make money, but they're killing people to make 
money. It's not very much different than going into a store, shooting 
the store owner and robbing the cash register."

It's not yet clear how much of the $100 million would go toward 
helping in the Capital Region. A Schumer spokesman said securing the 
funding increase, which would bring nationwide HIDTA funding to $338 
million, is the senator's first priority. If that is accomplished, 
then he will look to get as much as possible allocated to the state 
and Capital Region, the spokesman said.

The funding would support coordinated law enforcement strategies and 
operations to reduce the availability of heroin on the streets of the 
Capital Region, the spokesman said.

Both Schumer and Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple said they are 
optimistic that the increased HIDTA funding will make it in the 
federal budget. The senator added that if it isn't approved in the 
federal budget that lawmakers will discuss before session ends this 
month, he will push for the funding in the next one.

"We're willing to take any assistance we can," Apple said. "We need 
the availability to be able to backfill overtime without putting it 
all on Albany County taxpayers' backs. We need the availability to go 
out and buy new technology to conduct surveillance and intercepts of 
tweets and text messages and everything that we have legal authority 
to do so with a search warrant. ... That's how you combat it. Getting 
those low-hanging guys hanging on the corner is not going to solve 
the problem. We need the mid-to high."

Schumer also announced he is pushing to release $6 million in federal 
funding to battle heroin that is earmarked for Albany County. He said 
that the money was seized in cases jointly investigated by federal 
and local law enforcement agencies and is being held up by the U.S. 
Department of Justice in a bureaucratic logjam. Schumer wrote to U.S. 
Attorney General Eric Holder - who announced his resignation in 
September and will serve until his successor is confirmed - to ask 
for the expedited release of the money.

Schumer was joined by Patty Farrell, of Colonie woman whose 
18-year-old daughter Laree died of a heroin overdose on March 16, 
2013, and Kevin and Diane Flood, of Guilderland, whose 24-year-old 
son, Dan, lived on the streets in downtown Albany after he washed out 
of numerous treatment programs and continued injecting heroin. 
Farrell and the Floods were both recently profiled in the Times Union 
as part of its ongoing series, "The Scourge of Heroin."

Both families praised Schumer's efforts.

"Our community needs leadership in the fight against heroin and the 
senator is stepping up," Kevin Flood said prior to Monday's press 
conference. "We will support and encourage him to view this as a 
long-term battle. We strongly support the proposal as a way to reduce 
the amount of drugs on the street."

This is the kind of funding for law enforcement that hopefully will 
put a large dent in the heroin that is getting to our kids and loved 
ones," said Farrell, a retired Albany police officer.

Farrell said the $100 million heroin surge had the potential to 
"eliminate the heroin from coming here to begin with and start 
holding the big dealers accountable."

While they supported Schumer's initiative, the Floods feel that 
increased funding for drug treatment programs is also a crucial 
factor in turning the tide against the spike in heroin addiction. 
Farrell has been pushing for passage of Laree's Law, named for her 
late daughter, that would include a prison sentence of 25 years for a 
drug dealer convicted of selling heroin that resulted in a fatal 
overdose. Schumer expressed support for Laree's Law, which was 
proposed by state Senate Democrats, led by Bethlehem Sen. Neil 
Breslin, in 2014 but didn't make it to the floor.

Also joining Schumer at Monday's news conference was Courtney Lovell, 
a recovering heroin addict who works with young drug users.

"Recovering from addiction is possible," she said. "It is scary and 
it is daunting and it is a lifelong process. But it is possible, and 
it is so worth it," Lovell said Monday.

There were 32 arrests for possession or sale of heroin in Albany 
County in 2012 and that number nearly doubled to 59 arrests so far in 
2014, according to Apple. In 2012, $7,700 worth of heroin was seized 
in Albany County, compared to $180,000 so far in 2014.

Statewide, there are an estimated 200,000 heroin users, according to 
the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services.

 From 2010 to 2012, heroin-related deaths rose threefold, to a total 
of 875 opioid deaths, of which 478 were heroin overdose deaths, 
according to the state Health Department.

In addition, opioid discharges from hospitals across the state rose 
from 71,000 in 2010 to 75,000 in 2012, according to Health Department 
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom