CORNING - Corning City police said they expect another busy year of drug enforcement in the city.
The department responded to 19 incidents in the first 18 days of 2018 throughout the city’s eight wards. It responded to 154 drug-related incidents in both 2017 and 2016, up from 139 in 2015.
“It’s a daily occurrence,” said Corning City Police Chief Jeff Spaulding. “There’s no one ward that’s immune to it.”
Spaulding said opioids and meth have increasingly become a major issue over the last five years or so. In the 1990s and 2000s, most of the city’s drug investigations involved marijuana. Hard drugs were a rarer occurrence, but that’s no longer the case.
It’s a trend that’s occurring around Steuben County.
“I get at least three to five anonymous tips a day,” said Steuben County Sheriff Jim Allard.
Most of those tips involve meth or opioids.
Allard said 16 deaths due to opioid overdoses occurred in 2016, up from four deaths in 2015. This is partly attributed to the purity and accessibility of heroin in the region.
“It’s much more pure and a lot less expensive (than it used to be),” Allard said.
A study from Common Ground Health found Steuben County had one of the highest rates of opioid abuse in 2016 among the nine Finger Lakes counties.
The study states that in 2016, there were 121 admissions to hospital emergency rooms in the county due to opioid abuse and overdoses.
And the study reported that from 2014 to 2016, 54 percent of county residents who overdosed had an opioid prescription within the prior two years. That figure jumps to 68 percent for those who overdosed on heroin.
“We have been saying for nearly two years that the opioid epidemic has reached critical proportions here in Steuben,” Steuben County Manager Jack Wheeler said in a statement. “What is most important now is working to prevent the next hospital admission or death.”
The county hopes to do that with, among other things, continuing to foster community engagement and enlisting the help of residents with addressing the problem; an addiction treatment program in the Steuben County Jail that’s in its early phases, and an investment in better equipment for law enforcement.
This investment includes plans to purchase a $13,000 TruNarc reader that enables officers to field test narcotics in its packaging. The TruNarc will be paid for through a $23,500 donation from Corning Inc.’s Corning Foundation, and the leftover funds will go toward a $10,500 license plate reader.
The potency of fentanyl and other substances that emit fumes and can be absorbed through the skin presents a danger to officers when they uncover these drugs in the field, according to Allard. This is why investigators don full-body protective gear when they handle any suspicious package or substance, and they test any substance they find that looks the part.
“If we have a reason to believe it may be fentanyl or a similar substance, we test it,” Allard said.
Allard said the sheriff’s office hopes the TruNarc will enable the department to identify narcotics more efficiently and put a larger dent in the county’s illicit supply of hard drugs.