Health & Wellness

Heroin Abuse—and Availability—on Rise in New Jersey Communities Big and Small

February 17, 2014 at 6:00 AM

Editor's note: This is Part 1 of a three-part series on heroin abuse in New Jersey. Part 2 will appear on tomorrow.

With some of the cheapest prices nationwide, as well as some of the easiest accessibility, New Jersey has gained a distinction to which no state would aspire: It is one of the most dangerous breeding grounds for heroin addiction anywhere in the United States.

And the deadly narcotic’s presence in the state is hardly confined to the inner cities. In fact, suburban towns are seeing an increase in the use of heroin, an addiction which often begins with the use of other drugs, including some of the legal, prescription variety.

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“One common denominator I have been seeing in the numerous arrests we have had here this past year, is that almost all of those I have spoken to who are addicted to heroin, began their cycle of addiction with other prescription opiates such as Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin etc.,” said recently retired New Providence Deputy Chief of Police Scott Torre. “Many were prescribed the narcotics for pain management by doctors for injuries they sustained and, once the prescription medicine ran out, they discovered that the same pills being sold on the street are very expensive where heroin is being sold in the cities for about $5 a fold (dosage unit).” 

When Becky Carlson began with the Center for Prevention and Counseling in Newton in 2000, she was hoping to be able to prevent the overdose deaths that had become so prevalent in Bergen, Passaic and other northern New Jersey counties. Instead, the problem has only gotten worse in Sussex County. In fact, Carlson reports there have been “12 overdose deaths in a nine-month period, from January to September, with all being either heroin, prescription drugs or a combination of the drugs. The statistic we do not know is the number of overdose survivors."

When it comes to heroin, the escalation of use can be traced to three leading causes: increase in purity, the reduced stigma of the drug and decreasing price.

Drug cartels have consciously increased the purity so less is needed initially to have an effect. Increased purity also means it can be snorted, leading to the second cause: diminishing the stigma associated with having to use needles to inject the drug. "Although nearly all users end up having to inject," according to Carlson. The third contributing factor is the decreasing price. "Where we used to see someone using five to 10 bags a day, we are now seeing 30, 40, even 50 bag a day habits." 

The ripple effect of this scourge can be seen in the police reports of increasing number of robberies - drug addicts stealing to be able to support their habit. All of these factors lead to increased access with users reporting the ability to find heroin in an hour.

(Part 2 of this series will appear on tomorrow)

The Alternative Press Managing Editor Guy Kipp, Sparta Editor Jennifer Dericks and Montville Editor Hope White contributed to this story.

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