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HEROIN: No Longer Somewhere Else

The first of an ongoing series on an epidemic that once besieged the cities, but now deeply affects the streets of suburban and rural New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and throughout America

At Stop & Shop, you only worry about the restroom when you need it. It's like the rest of place: Clean. No mold; no residual smell. Something the Point Pleasant Boro, N.J. store is known for. Even Proud of.

The only "graffiti" is on the light switch; it says "on" and "off." The worst things that happen are a leaky diaper, a locked door, or a line.

On Jan. 10, something very bad, and once unthinkable happened here. Something that's become too common, a symbol of a crisis that's plaguing Ocean County, N.J., plaguing New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the whole country.

Something that doesn't happen in a place so clean.

On Jan. 10, a 42-year-old was found dead here, at the only "big store" Point Pleasant Boro has. The Jersey City man overdosed on heroin, carrying five additional wax folds stamped “Bud Light” in red on his person. 

It was yet another sad case, another horrific way of validating that heroin is no longer the scourge of the streets, the back alleys and the abandoned buildings of the cities.

No longer the scariest drug, heroin is now among the easiest to get. It's among the most accessible; especially the high.

And as it becomes cheaper and more available, it's no longer the problem that's happening "elsewhere." Small towns, big cites, even rural farmland areas - they're all coming to grips with the sad fact that the number of cases in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and elsewhere has skyrocketed in just a matter of a few years.

In just a few years, the drug's purity has jumped from 12 to 65 percent, according to Al Della Fave, spokesman for the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office. With it, overdose deaths in Ocean County, N.J., home to Point Pleasant and other seashore communities battling it all, doubled from 53 in 2012 to 112 in 2013.

In the past three years, addicts who could no longer pay $25 a pill for drugs like oxycodone switched to the much cheaper heroin, often sold for $5 per dose in Newark and Paterson, according to NJ.com.

The number of people between the ages 18 to 25 who sought treatment for opiate addiction jumped by 12 percent from 2010 to 2011, according to NJ.com. There were 368 deaths heroin-related deaths in New Jersey in 2011, up from 287 in 2010, according to the state medical examiner’s office.

In the last two weeks of January, 22 people died in six counties in Pennsylvania from what authorities believe were tainted-heroin overdoses.

Young men and women are dying, but so are older parents with small children. People, like the man at Stop & Shop, his body aged way beyond his 42 years, have now become the face of the epidemic.

People who show none of the obvious signs are getting arrested. Some of them work desk jobs for big companies. Or they labor in the back kitchens of restaurants, and they're getting caught, sent off to rehab yet again.

Many of them were the kind of people once repulsed by the thought of sticking needles in their arms. In the autopsies that have become all too common, the medical examiners find needle tracks covering the arms, legs and feet of their lifeless bodies.

"It just takes over the body to the point that the addiction is hard, almost impossible to stop," said Della Fave.

A Problem for every town

It's in Point Pleasant Boro, mostly known by many as the place to stop for ice cream and gas on the way back from the beach. In 2012, 148 abuse cases were reported here. Deals, possession cases happen on the streets of this town; a Brick woman was recently arrested for allegedly having a hypodermic syringe and drugs on Leighton Avenue.

In 2012, Point Boro placed number 36 on list of New Jersey 565 towns with the most reported incidents of heroin and opiate treatment, according to a Patch report.

It's in Allendale, N.J., where a 22-year-old man was found unresponsive in his bedroom on Jan. 4. He was pronounced dead at the scene; investigators later determined he died from a heroin overdose. Two Paterson men who allegedly sold the lethal dose of heroin were later arrested on second-degree manslaughter charges.

It's in Lacey Township, N.J., where a 19-year-old, back in October, was arrested after he allegedly injected heroin while in the restroom of the local county library. The Lacey man was charged with possession of heroin and possession of a hypodermic syringe.

It's in Hatboro, Pa., where a 27-year-old woman faces 40 years behind bars if convicted in the heroin-induced death of her boyfriend, authorities said. 

In too many towns, case after case, arrest after arrest has some connection - however remotely - to heroin. In documents released to the media this week that detail Monmouth County's indictments, roughly half of the drug charges involve heroin.

But the authorities who are arresting those addicted to it, or pushing it, know that incarceration only goes so far. For every one who's arrested, another's waiting in the wings, ready to carry on one of the few industries thriving in an economy that's not.

"We call it, 'Chasing the rabbit,' " Della Fave said.

A week ago, Ocean County had its 13 overdose death of the year. Last year's number of 112 - once seemed implausible, and unbelievable - could very well be topped in 2014.

What's worse, however, is what's behind the numbers: Broken families, eulogizing and then burying another loved one whom, they thought, never would do such a thing. Or they had it licked.

In some cases, the family knew nothing about what was going on until the final, fatal moment.

"He was 90 days clean," said one Ocean County resident, just a day after she recently helped lay her nephew to rest. "That's what makes it more f--d up. He had so much to live for."

Her nephew was a parent, she said. Nothing ever showed on the outside, until November, when he was caught. "Everything was just fantastic," she said.

Through the rehab stint, the man, whose name is being withheld at the family's request, did his job. Played with the kids.

Then came the 90th day. A day that should have been celebrated. Three months clean.

On that day, he was found dead.

At his funeral, there were 250 cars. Lines were out the door at the wake. So much to live for, people say.

"I don't know where it failed," she said. "I'd see him outside playing with the children with the idea that it was going well."

A competitive industry that keeps growing

How it happens no longer matters. Indeed, the old stereotype of junkies in alleys, emblematic of urban decay, is an image that ended with the 1970s.

It's also a drug that's not just injected anymore. Snorting it was never enough, because it was never pure enough. For many, however, now it is.

The industry has become very competitive, Della Fave said. The drug lords of Colombia, Afghanistan and elsewhere have upped the purity as heroin has become more available, and its price has plummeted. 

"The cartels are making it purer because they're trying to be more competitive," he said.

So many will go to any depths to use it. To make a little more money so they can buy it, they'll sell it.

In February, a trio of Cinnaminson, N.J. residents already charged in a string of robberies were charged with armed robbery and conspiracy in the holdup of the Town Liquor Store on Route 130 in nearby Florence. An investigation revealed the defendants used proceeds from the robberies to buy heroin in Camden, officials said.

In the Stop & Shop incident, the heroin was laced with fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opiate that's as lethal as it is potent. The drug is up to five times more potent than heroin, and its use is suspected in recent overdose cases not just in New Jersey, but also in Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, North Carolina elsewhere.

Heroin laced with fentanyl is stronger, cheaper and more desirable on the street, Della Fave says. A user who overdoses can quickly lose consciousness, and stop breathing.

But they use it anyway, because it's the next great high, the next way to raise the stakes when they can''t be raised anymore.

"Once a person injects heroin into themselves, from there on in, they're no longer making rational decisions," Della Fave said.

Addressing the problem, and the needs

There are towns that still resist any connection to the drug, even as many of their own continue to struggle with addiction.

Indeed, Patch's posting of 45 New Jersey communities with the most cases of heroin and opiate abuse and treatment prompted some public officials and police officers to protest, saying the state's data is flawed, or easily misconstrued.

Even some of those arrested in recent months have emailed, or called, demanding that their pictures be taken down. The other guy had the heroin, they'll say. They were just driving the car.

Others say they not only acknowledge what's become, in their words, an "epidemic;" they've "attacked" it.

Like in Ocean County, where Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato has been dealing with it since day one, Della Fave says. In just his third week, back in April 2013, his office dealt with nine heroin deaths in eight days.

In Ocean County, Della Fave said every police chief has signed on to Coronato's attempts to deal with it. In heroin-abuse forums in Lacey and Manahawkin, the seats were filled, forcing just as many to stand. 

In every heroin-related death, a homicide detective from the prosecutor's office is called in to respond.

Having a clean image is important, Della Fave says. But nobody's clean anymore.

"It's here, and it's alive," he said.
Roger March 03, 2014 at 10:18 AM
@tomc, thanks for your response. I realize you are "selling," but I am doubting that many out here are "buying." You are entitled. [p] I don't know what part of your post is quoting from the story, and what is your own words. Paragraphing in Patch is non-existent and makes these posts difficult to understand sometimes. [p] Nevertheless, there is no convincing argument about the disease idea. The missing part of the explantion is the first step. You can talk much about the after effects, but addiction starts with the first step. Your own post owns up to this dilema. [p] I remain puzzled about the first step -- why to use at all? What are the elements at work in the first step? This seems to be elusive, because nobody wishes to address. We hear the talk over and over about education. Education tells people the hazards of using mind-altering substances, but yet the rate of growth continues an upward spiral. The disease idea is unable to reconcile the differences between the desire to use, and the hazards that are well-known. Education is used as a stop-gap measure, believing that it will somehow solve the problem. [p] Addictions can take many forms, use of mind-altering substances is only one of them. How is sex addiction a disease? How is career addiction a disease? How is relationships a disease? All can be addictive and controlling -- no difference than use of drugs. [p] The disease idea is a relatively new characterization. I suggest that this nomenclature came into vogue so that certain remedial programs could be engaged. In other words, money started flowing after the disease idea was used, money that was not available before. [p] Also, the notion of disease is used to soften the impact. It helps relieve the stigma of the behavior, believing that the reasons are outside an individual. It is all part of "not my problem" syndrome that has pervaded our society in the last 20 years. High profile celebrity figures, such as Oprah, helped promote these ideas. "Everybody is a victim, we just need to find out who is responsible to impose the victim status." [p] Excessive drug use has become a major problem in our society. Lives are lost, others lives are disrupted, productivity is lost, and ( ... ). While it is easy to point fingers at foreign entities able to cause great disruption, the drug use problem slowly, but methodically is helping us to implode from within. Those outside must gloat about the US facination of pleasure, sports, entertainment, and similar, none of which bring satisfaction to our citizens. Seeking temporary satisfaction through other paths, unwilling to address the spiritual side of our being, and attempts to find peace in the wrong places are taking us down a disasterous path. Yes, as pointed our here, there are places to seek remedial help, but these are all after-the-fact. These are passive approaches, when the wrong path already has been chosen. Why are so many resistant to the proactive path?
Tom C March 03, 2014 at 12:10 PM
@Roger you continue to ignore the evidence of a disease. I posted the definition of addiction as did @Kaos8, from a .gov website. Does your own medical training provide a different opinion or is it your lack of willingness to open your mind to real research? I spoke about starting in the addiction--with legal substances such as beer and wine--and I'll give you one more example; if you had a severe peanut allergy and didn't know it and as a five year old child ate a PBJ sandwich and died were you a fool or did you not know you had that allergy until you first consumed peanuts? With that the "starting" horse has been beaten to death and if you don't understand I'd suggest you pray for the understanding you lack. The book "Alcoholics Anonymous" was written in 1939 and in that book there is a section called "the doctor's opinion" and alcoholism is clearly defined at that point in time--75 years ago--as a disease. So I don't know your age but for me 75 years is not "relatively new," as I wasn't even a glimmer in somebody's eye at that point. You have your opinion and you clearly are not going to allow that opinion to be changed by medical terminology or research. I don't need to "sell" anything as I have no financial stake in the game and those that really care about addiction, for whatever reason, can get educated far better than on this discussion board. @Kaos8 provided some websites to both learn and to seek help if required. AA, NA, AlAnon, and NarAnon are all free...they'll even give you a cup of coffee to enjoy while you're getting educated. I wish you the best in your journey
Kaos8 March 03, 2014 at 01:01 PM
@ Tom C - Thanks for the Kudos. I do see the frustration many have. Me personally have been in 2 of the 3 situations- when it comes to addicts. I have a close family member that died due to drugs (while not from an overdose but while being greatly impaired due to drugs in a motor vehicle accident/heavy machinery). The 2nd part being robbed 2x (1 of them being at great expense out of pocket- other was a camper battery (under $100)) all for heroin money. So, I can see the frustration many parties on this forum have. I also have had experience working w/ law enforcement- and anyone in that field will tell you it is frustrating and dangerous when you are dealing with someone on drugs, many of them frequent flyers. SO the impact is great on soo may people, who may not even know these addicts. Everyone is going to have a different opinion, depending on how an addict has affected their life. Some are out money/valuables, etc- from robberies. Others have a family member who may be an addict. Then there are service people (Police/EMS/Fire/Doctors/Nurses, etc) who see these people at their ups and down and have to help or deal with them. So no matter what facts are put on this message forum- people are going to have their own experience to draw their opinions from. No one should have to pay for someone else's mistakes (monetary or figuratively)... So, yes there is animosity, even on my stance, being robbed for drug money- money I will never get back and had to pay out of my own pocket- for a drug addict, I don't even know. None of their family members came forward to pay their debt.. And as far as I know the one set of robberies- got about $280k in stealing copper out of many houses. No restitution- was told it would be like getting "blood from a stone".. So, I can see the anger many people have... The monetary statistic -per the US Gov't, is sickening how much money is stolen and/or used for purchase of said substances in the United States every year by Substance Ubusers.. As a family member/loved one of an Addict- you are never going to make everyone believe it is just a disease - until money is taken out of the picture. So pretty much, unless you are going to "pay" for your loved one's mistakes- you are never going to change everyone's mind. Unfortunately, as is the way of the USA. There is no easy way out of this drug nightmare in the US. *****My congrats to anyone out there who is trying to better themselves out of Addiction, it is a long and very uphill, forever, battle. I hope you win.**** This was my 5 cents worth, and now I am done on the topic.
Roger March 04, 2014 at 01:45 PM
There is nothing in these posts to advance the cause of addiction being a disease. Citing government reports does not work. It is the government that wants to fund causes for disease. They are the ones who recently classified addiction as a disease, so that government money would flow toward these projects, as if to help. The government reports clearly have a "dog in the fight." Having somebody call it a disease 75 years ago means little, because it had no support, until the government wanted to step into the picture. [p] I see the question of "first step" remains unanswered with the disease explanation. I see the addictions other than drugs remains without comment - how to call a sex addiction a disease. [p] None of my concerns are to minimize the horrendous impact drugs has upon a family, and society as a whole. As commented earler, drug addiction has become a scourge across our land. [p] Which raises the next question: If addiction is a disease, then why has it spread? This article would never have been written, except to point out how addiction has spread to areas outside the urban community. Since this be the case, why did the disease spread from one community to another? What factors were at work to cause the disease to cross geographical boundaries with such abandon? [p] I continue to wonder why so much talk about remedial practices for the addict, and virtually nothing about prevention. Yes, I've heard the "education" stories. But, what are they about? Their focus is on the physical effects, and what happens to the addict. Does this help? Perhaps in some small way, but even those impacted would agree that education was ineffective, at least the kind of education being espoused. Why is there so little addressed to the root core of the problem, to prevent "first step?" Why are people so afraid to go here? [p] The last post speaks of those "who is trying to better themselves." This statement is revealing. It tells us that some remain convinced they can do life on their own, attempting to better themselves. Sorry, it is not going to happen. It has not in the past, no reason to think it will work now, or in the future.
mari0 doe May 01, 2014 at 11:29 AM
Lets stop this academic and do whatever we can to keep this out of our community.

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