U.S. Rep. John Katko's push to pass a bill to crack down on the spread of synthetic drugs received support from one of central New York's top law enforcement officials at a House committee hearing Wednesday.
Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler asked members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to advance legislation sponsored by Katko, R-Camillus, that would add a new schedule to the Controlled Substances Act targeting chemical compounds used to manufacture synthetic drugs.
The bill, the Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues Act, would add 13 synthetic fentanyl compounds to the new schedule.
Fowler, who attended a press conference last year when Katko unveiled the legislation, shared information with committee members about how synthetic drugs have impacted Syracuse. His department began responding to more synthetic marijuana overdoses in 2013. Two years later, the city had record numbers of synthetic marijuana overdoses and arrests related to the drugs.
"While the department took steps to get these drugs off the street, new chemical formulations of (synthetic marijuana) were being put in circulation," he said. "In addition, all the (Syracuse police) could do to someone selling this dangerous drug was to give them an appearance ticket for local law violation."
The effect of the drugs isn't limited to the users. Fentanyl and other substances can be dangerous to law enforcement officers and other first responders who come into contact with the drugs.
Fowler advocated for the Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues Act, known as SITSA for short. He told the committee the bill "takes a big step towards eradictating these harmful substances and protecting our communities."
He continued, "SITSA will give my officers the tools they need to target synthetic substances and the criminals who distribute and traffic them."
The legislation is one of Katko's top priorities in 2018, and he's hopeful that Congress will pass the measure. The House Judiciary Committee advanced the bill last year.
Before it's considered by the full House, it must be approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. In January, Katko met with the committee's chairman, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, to discuss the legislation. Joining him for the meeting was Teresa Woolson, an Oswego woman whose son drowned in Lake Ontario after using synthetic drugs.
At the meeting, Walden informed Katko and Woolson that the committee would begin holding hearings on anti-drug legislation, including SITSA.
"In Syracuse and throughout central New York, we've seen record surges in synthetic drug overdoses and our law enforcement are on the front lines combating this epidemic," Katko said Wednesday. "The legislation I've introduced will help stop the unlawful importation and distribution of synthetic drugs and give our law enforcement the tools they need to keep our community safe."