Sen. Chuck Schumer has asked the federal Drug Enforcement Agency for additional muscle to combat the opioid epidemic that has ravaged Long Island and other parts of New York State.
Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced Sunday that he has asked DEA acting administrator Chuck Rosenberg to station a special heroin enforcement team in New York.
“I’ve had fathers cry in my arms because their sons and daughters died of overdoses,” Schumer said during a Father’s Day news conference at his midtown Manhattan office. “That is what we are living with here. The heroin and opioid drug abuse . . . is about the most serious drug problem I have seen, and I have been involved in these issues for decades.”
Schumer, the Senate minority leader, said he helped secure $12.5 million in the 2017 federal budget for the creation of four teams known as Heroin Enforcement Groups. They would be posted in states where heroin is shipped from overseas and distributed to other parts of the country.
One of those teams should be based in New York, Schumer said. The DEA’s 2016 National Drug Threat Assessment has identified New York City as a major heroin distribution point for the Northeast and beyond. Much of the heroin that enters the United States comes through Kennedy Airport, Schumer said.
“With more than a thousand deaths related to heroin overdoses in 2016 alone, it is time for the DEA to bring its A-team to New York so we can finally zero in on this epidemic and stop this scourge in its tracks,” he said.
The four teams, made up of 42 agents who are experts in drug interdiction, are to work closely with state and local authorities to target opioid traffickers, Schumer said.
Twenty-four counties in New York have been designated High Density Drug Trafficking Areas, which means they are believed to be significant centers of illegal drug production or distribution and need federal assistance to combat the problem.
DEA officials are to decide in the next month where the four enforcement groups will be stationed, Schumer said.
Long Island and New York City have been hit especially hard by the opioid epidemic, Schumer said. Four fatal overdoses are reported in New York every day, the senator said, citing new data from the city’s Department of Health. Almost 500 people — 303 in Suffolk and 190 in Nassau — died from opioid overdoses on Long Island in 2016, Newsday reported in April, citing data provided by the counties’ medical examiner’s offices.
“While Nassau Police continues to work cohesively to make positive strides with the Long Island Heroin Task Force, we will accept any additional assistance to combat this epidemic,” acting Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said in a statement Sunday afternoon.
Suffolk Police Commissioner Timothy Sini said in an interview: “We appreciate Sen. Schumer’s fight for more resources for the region. We could really benefit from additional assets.”
He said Long Island is an appropriate site for one of the teams because Nassau and Suffolk police already work well with each other as well as with state and federal agencies.
“If they are looking for a good return on their investment the should invest in Long Island.”
Nassau and Suffolk police ratcheted up enforcement efforts after nearly two dozen people overdosed, one fatally, on heroin, prescription pain medicine, fentanyl or a combination of drugs during a 48-hour period earlier this month.
Schumer said he has helped combat crack, crystal meth and other drug epidemics, but opioid addiction is especially frightening because it has impacted every corner of Nee York State.
“This is the worst,” Schumer said. “It has hit New York City, it has hit Long Island, it has hit every quiet neighborhood upstate.”