Drug-detecting scanners at Queens’ JFK Airport would help fight opioid crisis, senator says

Photo via Wikimedia Commons/Doug Letterman

A New York Senator wants to see a Queens airport become one of the first in the nation to receive high-tech machines that would detect illegal drugs — including fentanyl — before they hit the streets.

The “International Narcotics Trafficking Emergency Response by Detecting Incoming Contraband with Technology Act,” also known as the INTERDICT Act, would provide U.S. Customs and Border Protection with new high-tech, portable tools and personnel to improve drug-detection capabilities at the country’s ports of entry, field labs and international mail facilities.

The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate and now awaits President Trump’s signature.

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times stronger than heroin, has been the latest source of concern in the nation’s escalating opioid crisis. Here in New York, seizures of fentanyl at the JFK International mail center increased from 7 in 2016 to 84 in 2017, according to Senator Chuck Schumer’s office. All of the packages were sent from China.

Approximately one million pieces of mail enter the JFK International mail facility each day — roughly 60 percent of the nation’s international mail.

The INTERDICT Act would increase the seizure of illicit fentanyl shipped to the U.S. from abroad through mail and express consignment carriers, Schumer said. The Senator urged U.S. Customs and Border Protection to prioritize JFK Airport for the new resources, should the bill pass.

According to Schumer, China is the principal source of the precursor chemicals used to manufacture the drug and Mexico is the primary source of the fentanyl being smuggled into the United States. Suppliers use methods to mislabel shipments or conceal them inside legitimate goods, like baby powder, candles or laundry detergent, in order to avoid detection.

The additional resources made possible by the INTERDICT Act, Schumer said, would keep U.S. Customs and Border Protection ahead of these drug smuggling methods.

In Queens, cops made a record-breaking drug seizure in September 2017 at a Kew Gardens apartment on 120th Street. After a total of 213 pounds of drugs were recovered from the residence, an NYPD laboratory analysis found that, of 97 packages found, 86 contained fentanyl.

The next month, 17 members of a narcotics ring were arrested. It was discovered the organization transported cocaine on commercial flights from Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, AZ, to JFK Airport for distribution in areas including Long Island, New York City and upstate New York.

In a recent announcement made by Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown, it was revealed the borough saw 172 suspected fatal drug overdoses in 2017 — nearly a third of which involved fentanyl. This is more than three times the amount of murders that occurred in Queens during the same time period, the prosecutor said.

In a letter to U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Acting Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, Schumer said the new technology “could mean the difference between life and death” in New York state.

“The crisis has hit my home state of New York especially hard with deaths from drug overdoses reaching epidemic levels across all five boroughs,” the Senator writes. “These devastating numbers paint a clear picture for why we must increase our defenses and choke off the supply of illicit substances.”

A total of $9 million would be allocated to U.S. Customs and Border Protection to ensure it has the appropriate devices, resources and personnel.

View the full bill by clicking here.

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