SYRACUSE — Frank Fowler, chief of the Syracuse Police Department, said his agency needs "effective tools" at their disposal to combat the growing synthetic drug epidemic.
U.S. Rep. John Katko wants to help.
At a press conference Monday at Crouse Hospital's Marley Education Center, Katko, R-Camillus, unveiled legislation that seeks to address many facets of the synthetic drug problem. One of the two main provisions would add a sixth schedule, Schedule A, to the Controlled Substances Act. This would target chemical compounds that are similar to drugs found on the existing schedules.
Katko's bill would add 13 synthetic fentanyl compounds to Schedule A. Synthetic fentanyl has been mixed with other opioids, including prescription painkillers. The results have been devastating. Last year, a report found fentanyl overdoses increased by 79 percent.
Dr. Indu Gupta, commissioner of health in Onondaga County, said synthetic drug use have led to increased rates of emergency room visits, hospitalization, Hepatitis C cases and "bothersome" rates of HIV.
"Drugs don't discriminate," she said. "The current epidemic has affected every sector of society."
Katko's measure also would provide a method for temporarily adding a substance to Schedule A, which would give federal authorities more time to determine whether it should be permanently added to the list.
"Once it's on that list, what you can do is not only arrest the people who are possessing with the intent to distribute knowing that it's a controlled substance or a controlled substance analog, you can go into head shops, you can go into stores and you can say, 'This is now illegal and we're taking it off your shelves right now.' So you don't have to wait," Katko said.
"That gives (the Drug Enforcement Agency) a very potent tool. That gives (the Syracuse Police Department) a very potent tool."
The bill's other provisions focus on streamlining sentence for synthetic drug trafficking offenses in federal courts and adds the crime of false labeling of controlled substance analogs.
Fowler, who said Katko is "the right person to attack a problem like this" because of his background as a federal prosecutor, endorsed the legislation.
"If we don't have those effective tools, what happens is is that people who are bringing this poison into our community will continue to do so," he said. "They will continue to profit from it and, as a result, the people that I mentioned before — our most vulnerable — will continue to suffer from it."
Katko is confident his bill will advance in Congress. The legislation he introduced in the House of Representatives has seven cosponsors, including U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice, a Long Island Democrat.
The Senate version of the bill is sponsored by U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. The lead cosponsor is U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who serves as the committee's ranking member.
"It will go through because I'm going to be raising too much noise for it not to," Katko said.