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POWER Act would bring a needed drug detection tool to small and medium sized police agencies

Ellen Abbott
DeWitt police officials (at right), along with Onondaga County District Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick (at podium) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (at left), discuss the POWER Act Wednesday

Local law enforcement agencies are hoping Congress passes legislation that would allow funding for some cutting edge technology that identifies lethal illicit drugs like fentanyl. 

The so called POWER Act would provide small and medium police forces with a chemical detection tool that quickly identifies fentanyl and dozens of other illegal drugs. There are a few reasons police agencies want it. DeWitt Police chief John Anton said first it’s a safety thing for officers. Fentanyl, which has become a huge part of the illicit drug trade, not only kills drug users, but small amounts in the air or on skin can cause a bad reaction to first responders on an overdose or drug crime scene.

"Fentanyl is just so deadly they'll just go unconscious, and then CPR has to be administered," said Anton. "I’ve heard of cases where one officer had to use Narcan/naloxone on a partner officer because all of a sudden he went down after being exposed to it."

The other way the handheld device would help is speeding up the evidentiary process, when it can sometime take months for crime labs to identify drugs. These devices cost $80,000. The POWER Act would pay for them for small departments like DeWitt, and would help deal with an opioid crisis that doesn’t seem to be going away.

"We just completed our annual stats for 2018. We had 52 overdose calls in the Town of DeWitt.  We had 18 Naloxone saves that our officers brought these people back from unconsciousness," said Anton. "And I worry about them every day getting exposed to fentanyl, getting it on their clothes, bringing it home to their families, getting it on their boots and so forth."

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.