WOODLAND PARK/TOTOWA, NJ - Local authorities recently commented on the rise in usage of and deaths related to heroin overdoses. This past November, two Passaic Valley High School alumni died after overdosing on heroin.
A 19-year old woman was found in the bathroom of a local convenience store in Totowa, after she and her alleged boyfriend stopped into the shop. After the woman had been in the bathroom for a while, a store worker got suspicious and called police.
Thw same weekend a young man in Little Falls was found dead at home after allegedly taking a lethal dose of heroin.
Det. Lt. John Uzzalino of the Woodland Park Police Department said that there has definitely been an increase of heroin use in the area and that law enforcement needs to stay proactive.
"We haven't seen any instances in this borough as far as teenage usage," said Uzzalino. "It's been more of adults ranging from their late 20s to their 40s. It appears many of the younger users have been from other counties that we've been hearing about. Thankfully, we haven't heard of any cases where high school aged students from this town have been involved with heroin, so that's a good thing."
He added that many different entities working together for community outreach is beneficial towards helping with those who are addicted
"I think all kinds of programs are helpful," he noted. "A special seminar on high school addiction was featured at Passaic Valley High School recently. I'm a big advocate of awareness and a proponent of 'Scared Straight,' a program used to deter juvenile crime. Many times, it's hard for young people to approach someone in order to talk about their addiction, so to actually speak with someone who has gone through it, that's when reality checks in."
Totowa Police Chief Robert Coyle said that many times, suburban area kids have been coming into urban areas in order to purchase drugs due to the cheaper cost.
"We've also seen a lot of usage vehicles," Coyle said. "They'll buy packets of heroin and will immediately use some packets while sitting in their vehicles. Sometimes, they'll even use it in public areas, such as bathrooms."
He added that while Naloxone, a medication used to block the effects of opioids, especially in an overdose, has been made a positive impact in saving lives, many might view it as a safety net.
"Some individuals might think that they'll use it as a safety net and continue to do the drugs," he explained. "Then if it get to the point where they may have overdosed, they'll be saved. But it's a good thing that we continue to provide first aid when necessary."
Since 2014, members of law enforcement in Passaic County have received training in the administration of Naloxone to respond to suspected opiate overdoses. In 2016, officers deployed the antidote nearly 90 times. In 2015, there was a total of 98 Narcan deployments initiated by responding law enforcement officers in Passaic County.
The Passaic County Prosecutor's Office reported 33 heroin-related deaths from September 2012 to September 2013 in the county, and 39 from September 2013 to September 2014.
Coyle added that law enforcement must continue with community policing.
"We need to keep plugging away," he noted. "One good thing we have in this borough is the security at our schools. The students can form friendly relationships with our police and keep a good rapport going. It's important that they feel that they can approach officers early on and that they're not afraid of them."