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Fentanyl

Drug dealers are designing and manufacturing fentanyl-laced drugs to resemble name-brand prescriptions. Stock photo

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) took a firm stand against the spread of fentanyl earlier this month, proposing legislation to add 11 variations of the highly addictive and dangerous synthetic opioid drug to the state’s scheduled controlled substances list. If enacted, this law would help close a current loophole in New York that makes it easier for narcotics dealers to distribute deadly drugs and skirt felony charges by designing and manufacturing them to resemble name-brand prescriptions.

The governor pushed the proposal Feb. 5 as part of a 30-day state budget amendment, with the hopes of the budget passing the senate in April.

Fentanyl is between 50 and 100 times more potent than morphine. Stock photo

“These actions will give law enforcement the tools they need to combat this drug, holding the death dealers who peddle it accountable and helping ensure that our laws are able to keep pace with this evolving public health crisis,” Cuomo said. “Make no mistake: Fentanyl is potent, dangerous and its abuse is increasingly fueling the misery of the opioid epidemic.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl is between 50 and 100 times more potent than morphine and even more so than heroin — the lethal dose of heroin is about 30 milligrams, while the lethal dose of fentanyl is 3mg. It is also not commonly reversed by Narcan, the lifesaving drug that combats heroin overdoses. Cuomo said the number of fentanyl-related deaths in the state increased by nearly 160 percent in 2016, a statistic that led him to evaluate what’s missing from the controlled substances list.

His push is resonating across Suffolk County.

“I applaud Governor Cuomo for taking this important step toward closing this dangerous loophole that shields drug dealers from justice and continues to tear our communities apart,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said in response to the governor’s statement. “I urge the state senate and assembly to include this proposal in their respective budget bills. We need to utilize every resource available to deter individuals who create and sell these deadly drugs.”

Over at the county correctional facility, Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr., who regularly visits school district across Suffolk to speak with students about the dangers of opioid use, also approved of Cuomo’s actions.

“These actions will give law enforcement the tools they need to combat this drug, holding the death dealers who peddle it accountable…”

— Andrew Cuomo

“I applaud [Cuomo] for proposing strong regulations on fentanyl analogs because it gives law enforcement another avenue to crack down on drug traffickers and dealers pushing these dangerous and lethal substances into our communities,” he said.

Tracey Farrell, a Rocky Point resident and the president of nonprofits North Shore Drug Awareness and On Kevin’s Wings, knows firsthand the devastation these opioids cause. Her son, Kevin, died of an overdose in 2012 and her daughter Breanna is currently three years in recovery.

Farrell said because there are so many different chemical makeups of fentanyl, “too often this ties the hands of our law enforcement” to enact stricter penalties.

“My son was one of 83 who passed in Suffolk County in 2012 when fentanyl wasn’t really on the radar, but five years later, that number is over 500 with a very large percentage of those deaths being caused by fentanyl,” she said. “We must take any and all steps possible to get the sale of this drug to impose the maximum sentences and potentially save lives.”

Sal Vetro, a pharmacist at Echo Pharmacy in Miller Place, said this would be a major step in the right direction toward saving lives.

“I think Cuomo’s on the right track,” Vetro said. “We’re trying to fight this epidemic and the people who need fentanyl should have fentanyl, but if it’s being used illegally, sold illegally, or causing damage illegally, those people should certainly be punished. We have to stop ignoring the problem, and this is a start.”

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer said there is need to increase the PPP loan funding, but he and Republicans have disagreed how. File photo by Kevin Redding

One U.S. senator is hoping to cut off the flow of fentanyl to the many New York residents struggling with drug addiction.

U.S. Sen. and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) announced support for a plan that would stop supplies of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times stronger than heroin and is not commonly reversed by Narcan, a lifesaving overdose drug, because of how quickly it enters the brain. The drug has come from China, Mexico and other countries into New York City and across the United States. Schumer also publicly decried a just-revealed White House plan to gut the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s budget by 95 percent.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid much stronger than heroin. File photo

“President Trump’s nonsensical proposal is the most destructive contribution he’s made yet to the fight against the opioid and heroin epidemic, and another clear sign he has no intention of keeping the promises he’s made to the American people,” Schumer said in a statement. “While candidate Trump pledged to ‘take care’ of Americans struggling with addiction and spend the money to succeed, his proposal to eliminate funding for programs, such as High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area and Drug-Free Communities — which are instrumental in aiding local enforcement drug trafficking in many communities in New York, at the southern border and elsewhere — would effectively kick Americans seeking treatment to the curb and make our communities less safe.”

In 2017, the office received $388 million, and under the Trump (R) administration’s proposal, the office would receive $24 million in 2018. The Office of National Drug Control Policy, which was authorized in 1988 with bipartisan support, currently directs the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program, the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, the Drug Free Communities Program, anti-doping activities and the World Anti-Doping Agency. The proposed budget plan would also completely zero out the Drug-Free Communities and High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas programs, which provide substantial support to treatment, prevention and enforcement efforts on the ground.

“Senate Democrats will never vote to defund these vital programs, and I know there are many colleagues across the aisle who feel likewise,” he said. “I urge the President and Republicans in Congress to reject this proposal immediately.”

With fentanyl continuing its sprint onto the streets of New York City and Long Island, Schumer also launched a major push for the International Narcotics Trafficking Emergency Response by Detecting Incoming Contraband with Technology Act. The senator noted the bill is even more important now, with the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s funding on the chopping block.

“Fentanyl-laced heroin is devastating our communities and law enforcement needs to utilize every tool and technology to stop the flow of this deadly poison,” Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas said in a statement. “The act will help law enforcement prevent fentanyl and other synthetic opioids from entering the country and will be a great asset in our efforts to dismantle the networks of traffickers and dealers who are fueling lethal heroin addictions.”

The Schumer-backed bill, introduced by U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts), would give U.S. Customs and Border Protection the hi-tech tools and resources needed to improve detection capabilities and increase the seizure of illicit fentanyl shipped to the U.S. from abroad through mail and express consignment carriers. Schumer said he would work with his colleagues to take action on this issue that is destroying families in New York and the rest of the country, and do everything in his power to prevent Trump’s proposal to cut funds.

Fentanyl overdoses are not commonly reversed by Narcan, seen administered on a dummy during a training session. File photo by Elana Glowatz

“These deadly substances are being delivered to our homes, being sold on our streets and destroying our families,” Schumer said. “We know how they get here and where they come from, now we need to give U.S. Customs and Border Protection the resources to stop this flood and help save lives.”

Although pharmaceutical fentanyl can be misused, most of the fentanyl being sold on the street is illicitly manufactured. While distributors in China are the principal source of the precursor chemicals used to manufacture the drug, as well as a source for finished-product illicit fentanyl and fentanyl analogs, Mexico is the primary source for illicit fentanyl smuggled into the United States. Fentanyl suppliers then use methods to mislabel shipments or conceal them inside legitimate goods in order to avoid Customs and Border Protection detection. In 2016, nearly 200 pounds of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids were seized, primarily from along the southwest border. This is a 25-fold increase of seizures in 2015.

In 2015, 753 people died of an opioid overdose and, as of April, that number was projected to hit 1,075 for 2016. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene says fentanyl is driving overdose death increases in New York City and is increasingly present in deaths from drug overdoses. There were 303 opioid-related deaths in Suffolk County in 2016, including 171 related to fentanyl. In Nassau County, there were 190 opioid-related deaths in 2016, including 62 related to fentanyl.

“Fentanyl is now killing more Long Islanders than even heroin is, and we know it’s only a matter of time before the next deadly synthetic opioid hits the streets,” said Jeffrey Reynolds, president and chief executive officer of the Family and Children’s Association, a not-for-profit agency that helps protect and strengthen vulnerable children, seniors, families and communities on Long Island. “As substance abuse prevention specialists and addiction treatment professionals work to reduce the demand for drugs, the act will help reduce the supply of synthetic opioids flooding across our borders, into our homes, schools and communities. This legislation is critical as we continue to battle an unrelenting opioid and heroin crisis.”