Collins questions attorney general on government response to heroin epidemic

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) questioned Attorney General Loretta Lynch about the government’s response to the heroin epidemic on Thursday and expressed concerns about an administration proposal to cut anti-heroin grants.

Collins, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, questioned Lynch during a hearing on the Department of Justice’s (DoJ) budget request for fiscal year 2017.

A DoJ proposal to eliminate funding for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Anti-Heroin Task Force was among Collins’ top concerns. The program administers competitive grants for local police to purchase drug detection equipment, expand data collection and strengthen information sharing, among other initiatives.

“As (the heroin) epidemic continues to spread, I am very disappointed, and in many ways shocked, that the administration did not include any funding at all for (the COPS Anti-Heroin Task Force), particularly since the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, CARA, which many of us have cosponsored and that will be on the floor soon, specifically authorizes this task force,” Collins said. “That’s an indication of strong congressional support, as is the funding that it has received in the past two years.”

Collins also questioned Lynch about “guns for drugs” trade fueling the heroin epidemic in communities across the country.

“Recently federal law enforcement officials briefed me on the link between straw purchasing of firearms and the heroin crisis in Maine,” Collins said. “What they described for me is a scheme in which out-of-state drug dealer with ties to inner-city gangs or the Mexican drug cartel come to my state with heroin, find addicts with clean records to buy guns, and then exchange the guns for heroin.”

Collins has also co-sponsored the bipartisan Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act, S. 2544, designed to make it easier for local authorities to prosecute gun traffickers.

Lynch testified that the bill would be “extremely useful” in helping police gain the cooperation of those who make straw purchases.

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