U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer on Friday announced his support for legislation aimed at choking off the supply of the powerful narcotic fentanyl, which officials say caused the deaths of a record number of Long Islanders last year.
At a news conference in Floral Park, Schumer (D-N.Y.), said the measure would provide U.S. Customs and Border Protection with $15 million for portable chemical screening devices that can detect fentanyl at ports of entry into the United States and at major mail distribution centers. Fentanyl originates overseas, largely in labs in China, Schumer said.
The bill, which would tap an $830 million increase in drug prevention funding in the recently approved federal spending bill, also would allow customs to hire additional scientists to determine the origin and composition of fentanyl that is interdicted.
“Fentanyl is colorless, odorless and 50 to 100 times more potent than regular heroin,” Schumer said. “One dose, one shot, and you die.”
Of the 303 opioid-related deaths in Suffolk County in 2016, 171 were related to fentanyl — nearly double the number in 2015 — the county medical examiner said. In Nassau, there were 190 opioid deaths last year, including 62 related to fentanyl. There were 22 fentanyl-related deaths in 2015 in Nassau, the data shows.
Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas said that with the rise of fentanyl-related deaths, “we need everything at our disposal so we can make a difference in our communities and save our kids from this poison.”
Jeff Reynolds, executive director of the nonprofit Family and Children’s Association, called fentanyl “Long Island and New York’s number one public health crisis.”
The Senate bill is co-sponsored by Schumer and six other Democrats, along with Republicans Marco Rubio of Florida and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia. A House version is co-sponsored by Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.) and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.).
Schumer said he expects a vote on the Senate bill next month.