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Schumer calls for increased funding to fight growing heroin problem

Citing a deadly increase in the use of heroin laced with a dangerous additive, Sen. Charles E. Schumer called Monday for Congress to increase funding for a key anti-drug effort – rather than cutting it, as President Obama suggested in his budget.

Appearing at Buffalo Police Headquarters with Mayor Byron W. Brown, Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda and local anti-drug activists, Schumer said the timing is just wrong for a cut in funding for the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program.

Schumer noted that there have already been more than 35 deaths by heroin overdose in Buffalo this year, blaming the increase on heroin laced with a chemical called fentanyl, which makes the drug 50 to 100 times more potent. Fentanyl-laced heroin is being marketed in the Buffalo area under such brand names as “Shine,” “LeBron James” and, perhaps more accurately, “99 Problems.”

“There is a proposal for a dramatic cut in funding at a time when heroin and fentanyl-laced heroin is on the increase,” Schumer said. “Why? It makes no sense.”

Derenda also took a strong stand against the proposed cut in funding for the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program.

“People are dying every day” due to heroin abuse, Derenda said. “It’s not the time to cut funding.”

Derenda said the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program provides his department with a vital link to other levels of law enforcement, so that they can work together to share information and crack down on drug gangs.

He said he is concerned that the unified government effort to fight heroin abuse will be weakened if, as Obama’s budget suggests, fiscal 2016 funding for the program is cut from this year’s level of $245 million down to $193 million.

Instead of a cut, Schumer is proposing a $100 million increase in the program, and he’s already talking to senators from both parties who serve on the Senate Appropriations Committee, which will be involved in deciding the final level of funding.

“I’m getting some good initial vibes, but we’re short on money,” Schumer said. With many competing demands for federal funds, “we have to be the squeaky wheel.”

That being the case, Schumer and others at the press conference did plenty of squeaking.

“Next year, if there is a $50 million cut, people who are walking the streets today will be dead,” Schumer said. “If there is a $100 million increase, we can say conditions will be better.”

Meanwhile, local anti-drug activist Avi Israel asked why there isn’t a much larger federal commitment to ending the spread of heroin and other opiates.

“When Ebola was raging in West Africa, we spent $6 billion and eradicated it,” said Israel, whose son, Michael, committed suicide in 2011 after he and his family could not find a bed at a local treatment facility where he could receive help for his prescription drug addiction. “I would like to ask the president to spend $6 billion to eradicate this addiction problem.”

email: jzremski@buffnews.com