Statewide database would help officials track heroin trends

Sen. Charles Schumer speaks on Jan. 2, 2014, Sen. Charles Schumer speaks on Jan. 2, 2014, at Bethpage High School in Bethpage. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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Sen. Charles Schumer Wednesday called for the creation of a statewide database to help law enforcement and health officials track heroin-related crimes and trafficking trends, as well as overdoses and hospital admissions.

The online database, called DrugStat, would collect tens of thousands of seemingly disparate pieces of information to help authorities fighting New York's opiate scourge identify new patterns.

That information would include treatment and overdose data from hospitals, locations of heroin busts, maps showing supply routes and trends, and the chemical makeup of seized heroin.

"This information can save lives," Schumer said in a conference call announcing the initiative.

Schumer has asked the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy to assist New York county governments and law enforcement agencies in setting up the database and securing funding.

He said he doesn't foresee problems in finding federal funding and grants to pay for the program, which he hopes will be up and running in three to six months. He did not offer a cost estimate for the initiative, which he said would be the first in the nation.

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The program would be voluntary for counties, but Schumer is confident of full participation.

"I have no doubt this will be a popular project, as long as we can find the funding," he said. "I'm almost certain we can."

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said in a statement that Nassau would "welcome" the information-sharing database. A spokeswoman for Suffolk County had no immediate comment.

Besides seeking funding for the database, Schumer said he will urge Congress to boost funding in 2015 for block grants to state treatment clinics. Those clinics are in need of more money as heroin overdoses rise and more addicts seek treatment, he said.

"Better data would help us accurately track substance abuse trends," said Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds, executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. "I'm especially encouraged by Sen. Schumer's push for additional prevention and treatment funds."

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DrugStat would help law enforcement agencies target neighborhoods plagued by heroin-related crimes, using real-time information to map hot spots, Schumer said.

Authorities could also use the database to better determine which types of heroin are most sought after, which dangerous additives are being used to cut heroin, and how best to disrupt trafficking routes. In addition, the database would help identify trends involving other illegal drugs, including cocaine, Ecstasy and methamphetamines, according to Schumer's staff.

Individual law enforcement agencies and county governments already collect much of this data, but DrugStat would let them share it so that they're not working in a vacuum.

Heroin's toll on Long Island has been climbing. The drug killed a record 121 people in Nassau and Suffolk in 2012 and at least 120 last year, records show.

The fatal and nonfatal heroin overdoses reflect a nationwide trend toward more use of the drug and more deaths as opioid pain pills -- which offer a similar high -- become harder to obtain amid increased regulations and a dwindling street supply, officials said.

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More than 660,000 Americans used heroin in 2012 -- nearly twice as many as five years earlier, according to U.S. government statistics.

New York already has an online system for tracking prescription pill abuse, called I-STOP. Doctors and pharmacists are required to consult the database before doling out pills.

There's no similar database for illegal drugs. I-STOP is overseen by the state Department of Health, and Schumer said DrugStat would also likely be overseen by the state.

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