LOCKPORT – The opioid epidemic is bad enough in Niagara County that the county should be added to a list of counties eligible for extra federal aid, U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer said Tuesday.
Schumer released a letter he sent to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, asking that Niagara become the 24th county in New York to be listed as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.
Erie County is the only other local county already on that list, which entitles it to funding for police intelligence-sharing initiatives, drug-use prevention and treatment programs, as well as general support for programs that provide assistance to law enforcement beyond their normal scope of duty.
One of the factors driving the opioid crisis is heroin mixed with the powerful drug fentanyl. Last year, during a federal probe called “Operation Lockjaw,” more than eight kilograms of fentanyl were seized in Niagara County, which according to Schumer, made it one of the largest fentanyl seizures ever in the U.S.
Niagara County reported 186 emergency room cases of opioid overdoses last year. In 2011, that number was only 48. The rate of emergency room admissions for such overdoses placed Niagara among the top 25 counties in the state for such cases, Schumer said.
“Niagara County in particular has seen a rise in crime and heroin-related deaths that is beyond alarming. The numbers have jumped, especially among kids aged 18 to 24, and that’s a trend we need to reverse now,” Schumer said.
Last month, the county applied for a $125,000 federal grant to help pay for two new law enforcement posts, a drug intelligence officer and a crime analyst, Niagara County Undersheriff Michael J. Filicetti said.
Also, Schumer said the funds for high-intensity drug areas have been used across the nation to help localities buy naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, the potentially lifesaving anti-overdose drug. However, the amount of federal money available has fallen, as the Obama administration cut the high-intensity program by $100 million last year.
One of Niagara County’s top drug prosecutors was pleased to hear the news of Schumer’s request.
“Any assistance we can get to stem the tide of the drug flow would be welcome,” Assistant District Attorney Peter M. Wydysh said. “We do everything we can, but a little more manpower, a little more resources would be great.”