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A.G. Schneiderman Launches New Law Enforcement Campaign To Crack Down On Violent Heroin And Opioid Traffickers In Suburban And Upstate New York

News from Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 27, 2017

New York City Press Office / 212-416-8060
Albany Press Office / 518-776-2427
nyag.pressoffice@ag.NY.gov 

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN LAUNCHES NEW LAW ENFORCEMENT CAMPAIGN TO CRACK DOWN ON VIOLENT HEROIN AND OPIOID TRAFFICKERS IN SUBURBAN AND UPSTATE NEW YORK

A.G. Schneiderman’s “S.U.R.G.E” Initiative Brings Together AG’s Organized Crime Task Force And Local And State Law Enforcement To Target Violent Gangs Dealing Drugs In Communities Across Upstate And Suburban New York Where Heroin And Opioid Epidemic Continues Growing Most Rapidly 

Suburban And Upstate Response To The Growing Epidemic (“S.U.R.G.E”) Aims To Disrupt New York’s Widening Heroin And Opioid Distribution Networks; New Report Shows Drug-Related Deaths Up By 84 Percent In 17 Upstate And Suburban Counties 

Schneiderman: S.U.R.G.E. Initiative Brings Our State’s Most Effective Law Enforcement Resources To Bear In The Fight Against Growing Heroin And Opioid Epidemic

ALBANY—Responding to the heroin epidemic's rising death toll in New York's suburban and upstate communities, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced the launch of the Suburban and Upstate Response to the Growing Epidemic (“S.U.R.G.E.”) Initiative, a new law enforcement effort spearheaded by the Attorney General's Organized Crime Task Force that aims to disrupt New York’s widening heroin and opioid distribution networks. Specifically, the S.U.R.G.E Initiative will target gangs and individuals who deal heroin and opioids and commit acts of violence in suburban and upstate communities across New York State. To carry out this mission, the OAG's Organized Crime Task Force, which has partnered with all levels law enforcement to arrest more than 750 individuals in metro areas across the state since 2010, will work closely with federal, state, and local law enforcement to investigate, arrest, and prosecute those criminals who target suburban and upstate areas.

On Thursday, AG Schneiderman and Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler announced the first successful takedown under the SURGE Initiative, arresting and indicting 52 people in Operation Bricktown, a multipronged investigation that dealt a major blow to one of Syracuse’s most violent drug dealing street gangs.

By the Numbers: The Growing Drug Epidemic in New York,” an April 2017 report published by the Rockefeller Institute of Government, found that New York—like the majority of the country—is experiencing a rise in drug-related deaths. According to the report, 14,173 people died from drugs in New York State between 2010 and 2015. In contrast, 9,754 people suffered drug-related deaths in the preceding six years (2004-2009). In 2015 alone, 3,009 New Yorkers died from drug overdoses or from chronic drug abuse—a 71 percent increase from 2010.

While the steady increase of drug-related deaths has been felt across the state, suburban and upstate communities have been hit particularly hard. In New York City, drug-related deaths increased by 45 percent since 2010. Comparatively, drug-related deaths increased by 84 percent in 17 counties outside of New York City (for which there is complete federal data). For example, in Onondaga County, the drug-related death rate increased by 145 percent from 8.8 per 100,000 people in 2010 to 21.6 in 2015.

“The S.U.R.G.E Initiative will bring our state’s most effective law enforcement resources to bear in the fight against New York’s growing opioid and heroin epidemic,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “I am proud that my Organized Crime Task Force has partnered with state and local enforcement to bring over 750 accused drug and gun dealers to justice since 2010. By directing resources to the communities that need our help the most, we can help curb some the heroin epidemic’s most devastating consequences for New Yorkers. With overdose deaths on the rise and federal funding for drug prevention on the chopping block, the S.U.R.G.E Initiative will be an important part of my office’s multipronged approach to fighting the expansive and violent heroin and opioid distribution networks across New York State.”

Since 2010, Attorney General Schneiderman has launched a multi-pronged strategy to tackle New York's constantly evolving heroin and opioid epidemic. Some of the Attorney General’s most significant drug addiction and treatment achievements on behalf of New Yorkers include:

  • Obtaining settlements with major domestic and global health insurers including Cigna, Anthem, and Empire BlueCross BlueShield (BCBS), which insures over 4 million New Yorkers, to remove barriers to life-saving treatment for opioid use disorder. The agreement put an end to the insurers’ policy of requiring prior authorization for medication-assisted treatment (“MAT”), which can lead to significant delays for patients seeking relief from addiction.
  • Creating the Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing Act (“I-STOP), a series of enhancements to New York’s prescription drug monitoring program that provided doctors with patient’s up-to-date controlled substance prescription history and established a safe disposal program providing a place for New Yorkers to get rid of expired and unneeded drugs—thus reducing the likelihood of stolen and forged prescriptions being used to obtain controlled substances from pharmacies. I-STOP also reduced “doctor shopping,” a practice in which an individual attempts to obtain the same or similar prescriptions from multiple physicians, by 90% since 2014.
  • Launching the Community Overdose Prevention (“COP”) program, a life-saving initiative that enabled state and local law-enforcement officers in the state of New York to carry naloxone, the extremely effective heroin antidote that can instantly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Since the program’s implementation in April 2014, more than 100 overdoses were reversed using kits provided by the COP program, which distributed over 27,000 kits across the state.
  • Obtaining an agreement with Amphastar Pharmaceuticals, Inc. to cut and cap the price of naloxone for all agencies in New York State, reducing the price of naloxone by nearly 20 percent.
  • Enforcing Mental Health Parity Laws to reach agreements with five insurance companies, Cigna, MVP Health Care, EmblemHealth, Excellus, and ValueOptions, requiring the companies to provide notice of a new appeal right to members whose requests for inpatient substance use disorder rehabilitation and eating disorder residential treatment were denied from 2011 through 2014. The estimated value of Excellus’s denial of these individuals’ requests alone totaled $9 million.
  • Successfully prosecuting more than ten licensed prescribers including operators of “pill mills” and other unlawful practices form crimes related to improper opioid prescriptions.

“Combatting the heroin and opioid epidemic remains one of my top priorities and through key partnerships with law enforcement officials and other organizations we can help turn the tide and save lives,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said. “I commend Attorney General Schneiderman on this bold initiative and support his efforts to eradicate those who are exploiting others and tearing families apart."

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz: “The scourge of opioids continues to take a devastating toll on our communities and drug dealers take their daily cut from the pain and suffering they unleash on vulnerable individuals. Thanks to Attorney General Schneiderman, the Organized Crime Task Force will now bring its weight to bear in the fight against these parasitic operators as we concentrate efforts on arresting, prosecuting, and jailing them.”

“I welcome this initiative from Attorney General Schneiderman as a complementary effort with what the county is doing to help the community implement a new approach to the heroin crisis,” said Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy. “We must remain vigilant and pro-active as we continue to cope with a rising tide of violence and crime associated with the epidemic. I commend the Attorney General for his work to assist local law enforcement to make our communities safe.”     

New York State Police Superintendent George P. Beach II said, “The State Police remain committed to working with our partners in law enforcement to identify those involved in these networks and put them out of business. Heroin and opioids are a problem across our state and they do not discriminate. By getting these dangerous criminals and narcotics off our streets we are preventing crimes, preventing more addiction, and saving lives.”

Thomas P. Zugibe, President of the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York (DAASNY) and Rockland County District Attorney: "The opioid epidemic is one of the most serious health problems affecting New York today.  In Rockland County, despite enhanced law enforcement efforts and aggressive new prevention and treatment initiatives, we have witnessed a 60% increase in overdose deaths in just the past two years. This 'pipeline to death' can be largely attributed to the greed of the pharmaceutical companies that dispense opioid analgesics, creating a new generation of drug addicts who ultimately turn to the illicit drug trade for their highs.  Gangs and dealers prey on these addicts, and often violently defend their 'turfs.' I am grateful that the Attorney General has turned the resources of his office to this fight.  I and other DAs across the state look forward to working with him on this important initiative." 

“Heroin continues to devastate our communities while those responsible for selling drugs are profiting from addiction. Law enforcement collaboration is essential in our efforts to identify, arrest, and prosecute the traffickers and dealers who are killing our neighbors with this deadly poison,” Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas said. “I commend Attorney General Schneiderman and the AG’s Organized Crime Task Force for their dedication and commitment and we look forward to continuing our partnership as we take on this lethal epidemic together.”

“The Attorney General’s initiative is just the kind of strong response needed to make a dent in this heroin epidemic,” says Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn. “My office is committed to collaborating in the aggressive prosecution of those who are peddling this deadly poison, and I commend AG Schneiderman for taking the lead in this effort to make our communities safer and save lives.”

Oswego Mayor William J. Barlow: “In the City of Oswego, we’ve started to look into ways and have begun our own initiatives to fight the heroin epidemic affecting communities like Oswego all across New York State.  I applaud and welcome the assistance from the Attorney General and New York State and appreciate the focus and efforts they’ve allocated to help local communities combat this fast growing problem.  Focusing on organized crime and targeting individuals who deal heroin and promote violence needs to be addressed and the Attorney General, with the Organized Crime Task Force, will begin that process.”

"The tragic and rising death toll caused by heroin and opioid addiction is one that has been felt across New York State,” said Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster. “It does not discriminate based on age, race or community - and it must be stopped. The Attorney General's strategic approach to combatting this deadly epidemic head-on will have a profound impact on curbing criminal activity and preventing further loss of life. The City of Niagara Falls and the Niagara Falls Police Department are grateful for Attorney General Schneiderman's leadership on this important issue and look forward to doing our part to assist the Organized Crime Task Force in any way necessary."

“I thank the Attorney General for his commitment to combating the heroin and opioid abuse epidemic that has devastated communities throughout the country,” said Schenectady Mayor Gary R. McCarthy. “This new initiative is a welcome addition to the comprehensive approach that the Attorney General’s office has taken in fighting to combat the supply chain of heroin, recognizing the need to prevent doctor shopping for painkillers through programs like I-STOP, and giving those suffering from drug addiction better access to treatment programs. The City of Schenectady looks forward to continuing our partnership with the Attorney General to ensure that we have safe and thriving communities.”

“This is a serious issue that is plaguing our community,” said Kingston Mayor Steve Noble. “The heroin epidemic knows no bounds; those who are battling with this terrible addiction come from a variety of backgrounds and yet these individuals and their families share in common the consequences of this debilitating disease. I agree with Attorney General Schneiderman’s comprehensive approach to this issue. I believe we will be successful by expanding prevention efforts, reducing barriers to intervention and treatment services, and targeting the gangs and individuals who are committing violent acts and dealing heroin. I commend the Attorney General for recognizing the gravity of this situation and allocating and coordinating the resources necessary to assist communities like ours across upstate New York.”  

“The S.U.R.G.E. Initiative will work hand in hand with the Albany Police Department to target and arrest heroin dealers, reducing the presence of heroin in our City and State,” said City of Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan. “Coupled with I-STOP legislation and the Community Overdose Prevention program, individuals will have access to the medical assistance they need to help overcome their addictions.  I am thankful for Attorney General Schneiderman’s leadership and dedication to keeping New York’s suburban and upstate communities safe.”

“I wholeheartedly support our Attorney General’s crusade against the heroin epidemic in New York,” said Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano. “The negative effects and violence because of heroin use can impact cities of all sizes in our state.  We are in a crisis situation and I applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for his efforts.” 

"The Suffolk County Police Department is working to end heroin and illegal opioid use in our communities on all fronts, including education and prevention efforts as well as targeted law enforcement initiatives," said Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy D. Sini. "This new collaboration will assist us in treating every overdose as a crime committed by the individuals and gangs who deal drugs in our communities, which is a critical step in eradicating the scourge of opioid addiction. On behalf of the Suffolk County Police Department, I thank the Attorney General for his partnership in the fight against the heroin epidemic and his continued leadership on this issue." 

“Police officers and emergency services personnel are continuing to witness the devastating effects of heroin in our communities,” said Albany Police Acting Chief Robert Sears. “Through the Attorney General’s S.U.R.G.E. Initiative, the Albany Police Department remains committed to working with our law enforcement partners to ensure that those who are responsible for supplying and dealing this extremely dangerous drug are not only arrested, but held to the highest degree of accountability. Through a collaborative effort, we must continue to build upon the many successes we’ve already achieved and also assist those who struggle with addiction by helping them get the necessary services they need. I’d like to commend Attorney General Schneiderman for his unwavering support to our agency and his overall commitment to public safety and public health in our community.”

“We are pleased to partner with the Attorney General’s office in this initiative that combats opioid addiction and heroin trafficking. Opioid addiction is a nationwide crisis and certainly a concern in the Poughkeepsie area. We look forward to partnering on this important initiative,” said Poughkeepsie Police Chief Tom Pape.

“Combatting the heroin epidemic requires an all hands on deck approach,” said Superintendent Bryan DalPorto of the Niagara Falls Police Department. “We look forward to working with Attorney General Schneiderman and cracking down on those who attempt to bring dangerous drugs into our communities.”

Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler: "We will continue to work with our partners in law enforcement, including the Organized Crime Task Force, utilizing programs such as SURGE, to combat the growing heroin epidemic and the resulting violence committed in our community.”

“While we try to find better ways to help heroin users overcome their addiction, we appreciate the efforts of the New York Attorney General’s Office in stepping up enforcement efforts targeting the criminals who destroy lives by dealing heroin and committing acts of violence,” said Rochester Police Chief Michael Ciminelli.

Tompkins County Sheriff Kenneth Lansing: “There are many avenues that a community may have to travel to help combat the heroin epidemic in New York. The Tompkins County Sheriff's Office has supported the efforts by the Attorney General's Crime Task Force, in helping to end this epidemic. We will continue to support them in every way possible to end this serious problem.”

“I applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for recognizing the need for additional resources to help combat the heroin epidemic that has devastated communities across New York State. This new initiative launched by the Attorney General’s Office will serve to enhance our efforts as we continue to battle this serious public health concern right here in Albany County,” said Albany County Sheriff Craig D. Apple, Sr.

White Plains Public Safety Commissioner David Chong: "The White Plains Department of Public Safety has been working to proactively address drug abuse, and specifically opioid abuse, in our community. The Department recently launched the CLEAR initiative, aimed at assisting those who want to overcome addiction get the help they need without judgement or fear. We thank AG Schneiderman for providing these resources to local law enforcement. By specifically targeting those who deal heroin he has given us another means of combating the opioid epidemic."

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