Hoping to help give law enforcement the upper hand in the war on an illicit substance, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, is pushing two new initiatives aimed to prevent heroin trafficking and abuse
The senator announced Wednesday a proposal to create DrugStat, an information-sharing database that would track heroin and other drug-related crimes, overdoses, deaths, hospital admissions and more. The database, the first of its kind for statewide use, would be modeled after one used by authorities in New York City which tracks prescription drugs.
“It is critical that we attack the problem from all fronts by improving information sharing, beefing up our law enforcement, prevention, and education efforts, and by getting more support for our treatment facilities,” Sen. Schumer said.
Information posted on the database would be submitted by and only accessible to law enforcement agencies, local hospitals, toxicologists and substance abuse treatment centers. That data would help those with access to the information uncover emerging heroin use and abuse trends, help track down dealers and can help local governments develop the most effective public safety and public health strategies, the senator said.
Sen. Schumer said he’s also wants federal authorities to increase funding for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grants. The extra funding would be used to bolster drug abuse treatment and prevention programs.
“The victims of heroin use are too often our kids, full of potential, whose lives are altered in an instant by these terrible and addictive drugs,” Sen. Schumer said. “More must be done to curtail the spike in heroin use and other drugs, and rescue more New York residents from the bane of drug addiction.”
Heroin is an opioid drug synthesized from morphine, which is a naturally occurring drug extracted from the seeds of the Asian poppy plant. The drug can be ingested several ways, either by injection, snorting, or inhalation. All three methods deliver heroin to the brain quickly. Once the drug reaches the brain, it is converted to morphine and binds to brain receptors, giving a user an intense feeling of euphoria, accompanied by dry mouth, heaviness of the extremities and reduced mental functioning.
During the last four years, heroin seizures by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) have skyrocketed by 67 percent and heroin-related arrests have increased by 59 percent, the senator reported.
Last year, Sen. Schumer said the DEA’s New York office seized 144 kilograms of heroin, worth roughly $43 million, accounting for approximately 20 of the agency’s nationwide seizures.
Local law enforcement and first responders have also noticed an uptick in the number of heroin-related incidents in recent years.
Since August 2012, ambulance crews from the Olean Fire Department responded to 15 reported critical overdoses caused by opiate use, with 11 occurring in the last six months. A critical overdose occurs when a person loses consciousness from using a substance and is unable to breathe independently. Of those 15 overdoses, 11 were caused by heroin, said officials.
Sen. Schumer said he hopes to see the heroin-tracking database up and running “within the next three to six months.” Participation in its information sharing would be voluntary.
Currently, local law enforcement agencies share information on heroin-related incidents with each other on an informal basis, said Capt. Robert Blovsky of the Olean Police Department.
“We absolutely have to,” he said. “State Police, us, the sheriffs, and the (Southern Tier Regional Drug Task Force) all have limits on our resources so we need each other and we work pretty well with each other to do that. We’re all in pretty close proximity and we all see each other pretty regularly or talk on the phone so we share information that way.”
Should DrugStat become a reality, Capt. Blovsky said he would welcome the opportunity for the city’s police department to participate in the program.
“Heroin is hitting our community so hard right now,” he said. “Anything we can do to get the job done, we’ll do. Communication is always the best thing ... and any kind of information that can be shared is going to benefit us.”
(Contact reporter Christopher Michel at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, OTHChris.)