BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The Berkeley Heights Police Department hosted a Drug Awareness program on Monday at the Town Hall as part of an ongoing series to educate the community of the growing opioid and heroin epidemic. 

Drug addiction has no boundaries and overdoses are on the rise in New Jersey. In 2016, drug overdoses topped 2,000 in New Jersey, said Berkeley Heights Police Chief John DiPasquale. "That is more than guns, car accidents and suicides combined."

Heroin is most likely involved in 1,200 of those deaths, 800 were likely the result of Fentanyl [a synthetic more potent version of heroin]. This number is up from 46 deaths reported three years ago, said Chief DiPasquale. Public concern is on teens, however, trends shows that heroin overdose is split evenly among all age groups with the average age of fatal overdose being between the ages of 24 and 48 years old.

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While opioid and heroin addiction may not be at epidemic levels in Berkeley Heights, there is a presence and it is key to educate and share information before addiction starts. "We want to educate folks to intervene early on," said Chief DiPasquale.

Drug addiction is a complex process, said Sgt. Jason Massimino. "To understand drug awareness, you have to understand the addiction part of it. What an addict goes through -- it is hard to describe," he said to the room of parents and educators that attended the recent presentation.

"An addict lives for a fix," he said. "Their days revolve around getting it." Massimino added.

Massimino identified trending drugs found in Berkeley Heights and what signs to look for in addiction. "Marijuana, prescription pills and heroin are the trend in Berkeley Heights," he said. The police officers showed samples of these drugs from their drug kit donated to the BHPD by Primrose School of Berkeley Heights.

Recreation marijuana is still illegal in New Jersey, however, it is easily accessible. Massimino described the different strands and potency and dangers of ingestion of marijuana laced foods and vaping of "honey oil" or "wax."  

"We see it in our kids too," said Detective Trent Fettes of kids ingesting the "honey oil" through vaping pens. "It is out there. That's how they try and get by on us because you can't smell the odor."

Massimino described the obvious issue with opioid prescription pain killers like Percocet, Roxicet, Percodan, OxyContin. "[These drugs] block pain signals to the brain -- gives young people a sense of well being. -- Obviously, the problem is the addiction is strong. It triggers pleasure -- an uncontrollable craving."

"Once someone runs out of money they turn to heroin," said Massimino. Heroin in its purest form is white and is sold in folds. The high lasts for three to four hours, he said. Most overdoses involve the synthetic opioid Fentanyl which is 100 times more potent than painkillers. Carfentanil is 100 times more potent than Fentanyl. 

Signs of addiction include: change in behavior, grooming habits, gain or loss of weight, blood shot eyes, always sleeping, unexplained need for money. "At the end of the day, what you see differently -- change in appearance, change in friends -- trust your gut," said Massimino.

It is important to reach out to the available resources for help:

  • New Jersey Addiction Treatment Hotline: 844-276-2777
  • Prevention Links provides Union County Residents with a host of addiction treatment options: info@preventionlinks.org or call 732-381-4100.
  • CLEAR Program -- Community Law Enforcement Addiction Recovery
  • Training in administering Narcan: JSAS Healthcare at 732-988-8877 or Prevention Links at 732-381-4100

The prescription painkiller phenomenon within our suburban communities has proven to be a direct trend to the heroin issue. Four out of five start with prescription drugs, said Chief DiPasquale. "So it is key to get any prescription that is not being used out of the house. The closest drop box is in Summit." 

Project Medicine Drop is exercised throughout Union County. It allows consumers to dispose of unused and expired medications anonymously, quickly, and easily. These drop boxes are located within the headquarters of participating police departments. Click here for locations. Berkeley Heights conducts drug take backs twice a year, but "in the meantime, we encourage you to clean out the medicine cabinet and get them over to the closest drop box," said Chief DiPasquale.

In an effort to save more lives, Gov. Chris Christie signed the Overdose Prevention Act into law in 2013 which encourages overdose victims and witnesses to seek medical assistance in the event of an overdose emergency. By guaranteeing limited legal protection from arrest and prosecution, the law eliminates fear as a major barrier to help-seeking. 

In 2014, Union County started the Narcan program, which was deployed by all 21 county agencies. The drug Narcan enables family and friends to act quickly to prevent a potentially lethal overdose from taking the life of a loved one, according to the Union County Public Relations office. In 2017, there have been 98 Narcan deployments in Union County with 42 fatalities reported during that same time frame. Chief DiPasquale said that there has been 14 Narcan deployments in Berkeley Heights since 2014, with three fatal overdoses during that same time period.

"Reality is the enforcement is still a big part of the sale of drugs and the fight against this drug problem," said DiPasquale. -- "These drugs do come into our community," said Chief DiPasquale. "We need our guys and gals out there doing enforcement. It helps prevent access to." 

In Berkeley Heights there were 13 drug arrests in 2014, 26 arrests is 2015 and arrests went up to 51 in 2016. "So far through June there have been 36 arrests involving marijuana, heroin, cocaine, LSD and prescription drugs," said Chief DiPasquale. "We do not attribute it to an increase in use -- it is more likely enforcement -- we have our staffing levels up and we have patrol officers and detectives able to do proactive police work. This is what is responsible for effective drug enforcement."