Concern over Chautauqua County's raging heroin epidemic has apparently reached the federal level.
On Friday, Sen. Chuck Schumer urged the President's Office of National Drug Control Policy to designate Chautauqua County as a federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.
The designation, which would improve coordination among federal, state and local law enforcement agencies as well as provide equipment, technology and additional resources, is indicative of how significant heroin and drug-related crimes have become in the local area.
"Heroin use, fatal overdoses, and drug-related crime is again on the rise, and Chautauqua County in particular has seen a rise in heroin use that is alarming," Schumer said. "More must be done to curtail the spike in heroin use and prevent more Chautauqua County residents from the bane of drug addiction."
The county, if designated as a HIDTA, will receive prioritized funding for intelligence-sharing initiatives, drug prevention, treatment and general support for programs that provide assistance to law enforcement beyond their normal scope of duty.
Chautauqua County Sheriff Joseph Gerace, who initiated the application for the HIDTA, was appreciative of Schumer's response.
"In recent years, the volume of drugs moving through our community has continued to increase," he said. "We applied to become a federally designated High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area so that we can access vital intelligence and information from other regions. Sen. Schumer's support of this effort is critical, and we greatly appreciate his efforts on behalf of all law enforcement in Western New York."
Jamestown, in particular, was referenced in Schumer's letter of request to ONCDCP. "In the city of Jamestown, heroin-related arrests have tripled over the last three years, and in 2013 were linked to more deaths in the area than any other drug," he writes.
Captain Robert Samuelson, division commander of the Jamestown Police Department, said the increased funding will certainly help the department continue making drug arrests at an accelerated pace.
"Ninety-five percent of the drug arrests (in the county) come from the Jamestown Police," Samuelson said. "Ninety percent of (these arrests) have been heroin-related ... so we are very aware of the problem. Obviously, we are in the need of funding to assist us with our efforts ... we could use money to pay for manpower as well as for equipment."
County Executive Vince Horrigan, who has taken a noticeably aggressive stance against the local heroin epidemic, said the HIDTA designation would be a positive development in the county's efforts to curb its proliferation.
"What this does is what we've all been trying to do ... and that is bring awareness to this problem to every aspect of our community," Horrigan said. "Now that this problem is identified at the federal level with Sen. Schumer, I welcome additional resources that he's trying to get for us."
A particular area to receive additional funding, if the designation goes forward, will be the crack down of supply chains and the curbing of heroin trafficking, Horrigan said.
The county executive has indeed taken a multi-pronged approach to combating the heroin epidemic, bringing together law enforcement, health care and other social services at a communitywide drug forum in March and later forming action teams to convert the broad strategies outlined in the forum into tangible, workable strategies.
"My goal was to raise awareness and lead this effort in the county," Horrigan said. "I'm very pleased with the response at the state and now federal level to address this issue ... it is truly welcome."