The federal Drug Enforcement Administration is setting up a new heroin enforcement team on Long Island — an epicenter of fatal opioid overdoses in recent years, officials announced Friday.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, who said he secured $12.5 million in federal funding for the DEA to set up enforcement teams across the country, pushed for a New York “A-Team” with Long Island as its headquarters.
Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the team would assist local law enforcement in its fight against heroin and the even more deadly fentanyl.
“The team is going to focus on new ways, with heroin and particularly fentanyl, in terms of stopping it, finding out where it comes from,” Schumer said in an interview. “It will also give our Long Island police a great hook into the federal government and all its resources.”
Schumer said he expected the funding for the teams to pay for undercover police operations, as well as better drug detection technology to stop the flow coming through Kennedy Airport.
Long Island is one of six places — identified by authorities as a major heroin shipping and distribution point — across the country getting an enforcement team. The New York team will consist of six new DEA agents plus two officers from an existing task force, officials said.
The other places are Charleston, West Virginia; Cincinnati, Ohio; Cleveland; New Bedford, Massachusetts; and Raleigh, North Carolina.
The DEA’s 2016 National Drug Threat Assessment has identified New York City as a major heroin distribution point for the Northeast and beyond, Schumer said.
In determining the locations for the teams, the DEA considered multiple factors, including “rates of opioid mortality, level of heroin and fentanyl seizures, and where additional resources would make the greatest impact in addressing the ongoing threat,” the agency said Friday in a news release.
“At a time when overdose deaths are at catastrophic levels, the DEA’s top priority is addressing the opioid epidemic and pursuing the criminal organizations that distribute their poison to our neighborhoods,” acting DEA Administrator Robert W. Patterson said.
Nearly 500 people died from opioid overdoses in Nassau and Suffolk counties last year — the highest number of fatalities ever recorded.
Suffolk County had 303 opioid-related deaths in 2016, records show. Of those, 171 were related to fentanyl, a potent painkiller.
Nassau County recorded 190 deaths related to overdoses of opioids in 2016. Nassau’s death toll connected to fentanyl almost doubled from 86 the previous year, records show.
Jeffrey Reynolds, president and chief executive of the Family & Children’s Association, a Mineola-based treatment organization, welcomed the “additional law enforcement firepower.”
“That we might be able to dig down beyond street-level dealers and break up these vast networks is encouraging,” Reynolds said.