NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ - The New Providence Alliance in partnership with the New Providence Police Department hosted a Drug Awareness program at the high school on Monday as part of an ongoing series to educate the community and open discussion of the growing opioid and heroin epidemic. 

As previously reported by TAPinto, drug addiction has no boundaries and overdoses are on the rise in New Jersey. In 2016, drug overdoses topped 2,000 in New Jersey. 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. 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. While opioid and heroin addiction may not be at epidemic levels in New Providence, there is a presence and it is key to educate and share information before addiction starts. 

Over 100 parents and educators turned out on Monday to learn how this epidemic is hitting the community. Parents seemed to be especially concerned after hearing of the two recent overdose deaths in town. Lt. Dan Henn led the discussion providing important information regarding the growing concerns in the community. "Heroin has become an epidemic not just here in New Jersey but across the country," said Henn. "It's time to address it not just as a heroin issue but an opioid issue."

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Henn said, since 2014, there have been seven overdose deaths and 15 arrests for possession of heroin in New Providence.  This arrest statistic does not account for simple possession charges of hypodermic needles and drug paraphernalia. 

Henn told the story of his exposure to heroin as a New Providence police officer.  He said, at the start of his police career in New Providence, he was dispatched to a house in 2000 for an unresponsive young male in his early 20s.

He provided a general interpretation of his experience and said the young man had "some run-ins with the police." "We got him to the hospital and they administered drugs to save his life," he said. It didn't take long for this young man's life to spiral, he no longer lived at home and Henn said he was called three more times on this individual. The last call was from the Newark police asking for assistance in identifying for an overdose.

Although this was several years ago, Henn said that this is part of the New Providence police department's day to day lives. 

Where does it start?

"The start is happening in our homes," said Henn.

Henn spoke about the issue of the opioid prescription pain killers like Percocet, Roxicet, Percodan, OxyContin.  "If you're monitoring or policing this at home, your success rate goes up," said Henn. "These drugs are obtained through sports injuries and dental procedures for our juveniles -- [and] are the most likely ways for them to get access to these type of pain medications."

"We want to get rid of these drugs," said Henn. He recommends using the drug disposal options through the police department. He said that Tylenol Codeine should also be a concern. "We forget codeine has a derivative of opium."

The perception of opioid use is it's a "clean high" because it's medically prescribed by doctors. However, the downward spiral of frequency increases. It is key to get any prescription that is not being used out of the house. The closest drop box is in Summit.

How does opioid use translate to addiction?

The injured juvenile athlete is prescribed a prescription opioid to treat the injury. It's funneled through insurance and they are being treated, said Henn. Doctors are required to monitor and generally make a hard stop and refer you to a pain management physician.

The injured person will slowly clean out the medicine cabinet as they get hooked on prescription pills. The injured person may obtain pills from friends or "one offs [the person that is new to the group]," said Henn. 

The single pill may be purchased for $25 per pill. "You may see excessive use of marijuana, excessive use of alcohol -- they may experiment with a friend by snorting or licking. The difficulty is -- the habit quickly ramps up," said Henn.

It will hit their system in a few minutes, from that point, it's not the same transition as taking a pill, it is much shorter, he said. The cost of the hit of heroin is less expensive. A single bag of heroin may cost five to seven dollars. It is much more cost effective to get heroin than pills, he said.

What is the correlation of opioid use to heroin? Four out of five new heroin users admit to starting on pain medications out of their own home, said Henn.

If you are hooked on heroin, it's likely it started with something a long time ago, he said.

The prescription 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. Heroin in its purest form is white and is sold in folds. The high lasts for three to four hours. Most overdoses involve the synthetic opioid Fentanyl which is 100 times more potent than painkillers. Carfentanil is 100 times more potent than Fentanyl. (See photo gallery for lethal dosage of Fentanyl and Carfentanil compared to heroin.) The potency of morphine, heroin, Fentanyl becomes 10 times itself as it goes up the opioid ladder.

Henn provided the eyeopening statistic that prior to 2015, Fentanyl was found in 19 percent of overdose cases. As of 2017, it has been found in 65 percent of cases. It has kept the cost of heroin stable. Heroin used to be 95 percent pure. Today, cost has gone down, heroin has a 40 percent purity cut with 60 percent inert ingredients with one percent Fentanyl being added, said Henn.

"The epidemic is how frequently we are finding it [Fentanyl] and it is attributing to the amount of deaths caused by overdose," said Henn.

Signs of addiction: Disassociation and distrust becomes obvious. At the end of the spiral, ingestion types change -- [the] snorting or smoking may change to intervenes and criminal activity [with theft and burglaries and controlled dangerous substance arrests], said Henn. He went on to provide additional signs that include: mood swings, social withdrawal, doctor shopping, change of sleep habits,  identifiable lack of hygiene habits, financial issues. Henn also identified "end of the story symptoms" including nausea, nodding off, itching, and pinpoint pupils.

Parents need to take notice of what you see -- change in appearance, change in friends -- trust your gut.

Dave Chango, NPHS Student Assistance Counselor and Melisa Tasse, Ph.D. Neuropharmacologis and CEO & Founder of The Honey Bee Foundation were available during the question/answer session. The Municipal Alliance provided several handouts with literature and guides to parents on the national opioid and heroin epidemic.

Parents showed concern of vaping in the high school which will be discussed further in future sessions.

The evening discussion was filmed and will be available for public viewing. Like the  New Providence Alliance to Prevent Alcohol and Drug Abuse Facebook page for latest information and programs being offered to the community.

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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
  • Gateway Center for Counseling and Recovery - 908-665-1000

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.  The police encourage you to clean out the medicine cabinet and get them over to the closest drop box. 

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.