Editor's Note: This is Part 3 of The Alternative Press' three-part series on heroin use in New Jersey. Part 1 appeared on TheAlternativePress.com on Monday, Feb. 17, and Part 2 was published Tuesday, Feb. 18.
The grade of heroin that is available in New Jersey makes it particularly toxic.
“Unfortunately, one distinction that we have here in New Jersey is that we have the purest heroin (between 50 and 70 percent pure) and the cheapest prices nationwide,” said New Providence Deputy Chief of Police Scott Torre. “This is due to the fact that the two ports in Elizabeth and Newark are major hubs for the heroin coming into our country mainly from South America.”
Commensurate with these trends in heroin is the increased use of prescription painkillers and marijuana. "It is a steady progression that is happening much more quickly than ever before," reported Becky Carlson of the Center for Prevention and Counseling in Newton. "You cannot leave marijuana out," of the discussion of heroin use, she said. "Kids don't hear 'medical marijuana,' they hear 'legal'."
With the percentage of THC in marijuana up from 3 percent in the 1970s to about 15 percent now, there may now be more potential for marijuana to be addictive. The progression often moves from marijuana to prescription painkillers and heroin. It is often in the party atmosphere of "what do you have?" or "try this" that leads to the escalation of drug use to pills and heroin.
While Carlson said, "I haven't met one person who didn't start with drinking," alcohol--long understood to be the most prevalent gateway drug of choice--is the only category of drug that has been shown to have decreased, according to a Sussex County-wide study of students in grades 6-12. Project Alert is a survey of Sussex county school aged children done every two years. In 2010, 1 percent of high school seniors reported using heroin. In 2012 that number more than doubled to nearly 2.5 percent.
Direct involvement for more than a dozen years has only strengthened Carlson’s commitment to fighting the battle of drug addiction in Sussex County. Summing up, Carlson says, "Nobody's immune."
Dr. Paul Fried, superintendent of schools of Montville Township, indicated that he has “no perspective on the involvement of heroin in Montville Township,” as it has not been an issue brought to his attention at the township or school level. Fried further commented, however, “This is not to say that drugs aren’t out there being used or distributed among students without the knowledge of the school administration.”
Fried feels that if a problem with drugs or alcohol arises, it should be the responsibility of the entire community to focus on the issue. Fried indicated that, if needed, he would work with an organization such as Communities That Care, whose website indicates it “employs a proven, community-change process for reducing youth violence, alcohol & tobacco use and delinquency--through tested and effective programs and policies.”
In the past, Fried has suggested that Montville Township’s Drug Awareness Council look into Communities That Care as a potential future resource.
Committeewoman Deborah Nielson of Montville recently commented that Gov. Peter Shumlin of Vermont dedicated his entire State of the State address in January to heroin use in his state. In his speech, Shumlin discussed a film by Bess O’Brien called, “The Hungry Heart,” which focuses on one Vermont community’s struggle to save its children from this growing epidemic. Shumlin promised to provide a grant to enable O’Brien and those whose stories are featured in the documentary to visit every high school in Vermont to talk to the students directly about their difficult journeys.
Nielson believes that heroin use is escalating in Morris County. “The community and youth are being affected,” Nielson said. She recommended that the documentary discussed by Gov. Shumlin be distributed in Montville schools. “Drug prevention starts with educating our youth. Our Drug Awareness Council needs to continue to be out in front of it and be more aggressive,” Nielson said.
Nielson wanted to remind the community about Montville Township’s Drug Take-Back Program in which anyone can safely dispose of expired or unwanted prescription and over-the-counter medicines in the 24-hour drop off box located in the lobby of the Montville Police Department headquarters. Properly disposing of unused and unwanted medications contributes to the safety and well-being of the youth in the community: the abuse of prescription and over-the-counter medications are on the rise, due in part to these drugs being easily accessible.
Montville’s Deputy Mayor Scott Gallopo is a liaison to Montville’s Drug Awareness Council and commented that heroin use has been on the council’s agenda for years. However, he agrees with Nielson that educating children and parents is a priority, and that it’s time to “kick-start the movement” to refocus on this drug education.
“Parents need to talk to their children constantly to discourage first use,” Torre said. “Use real life examples, like the death of Cory Montieth of ‘Glee’ at 31 years old, or the overdose of Stephanie Bon Jovi, age 19, while at a college party. The message is, if you try heroin, even one time, you may become addicted, and once that happens the downward spiral occurs very quickly, and the addiction ruins so many lives.”
For Part 2 of the series, see http://thealternativepress.com/towns/scotch-plains-slash-fanwood/articles/heroin-use-on-rise-in-suburbs
The Alternative Press Managing Editor Guy Kipp, Sparta Editor Jennifer Dericks, Montville Editor Hope White and Warren Editor Brenda A. Nemcek all contributed to this story.