SPARTA, NJ – A 22-year-old Sparta woman nearly overdosed on heroin in the shower of the Pope John XXIII High School rectory earlier this month, according to police records.
The May 3 incident, detailed in a recording of a 911 call obtained by TAP into Sparta, resulted in Sparta Police responding to a frantic call by a woman who told them she was a Pope John teacher whose daughter had “overdosed” in the rectory.
The woman, who identified herself as Karen Delea, made the call at 9:22 a.m. “I think my daughter overdosed in the rectory,” she said.
In a written report of the incident, police said the woman’s daughter, Hannah Delea, admitted she “had snorted heroin and flushed the rest down the toilet.”
Her mother told the dispatcher her daughter was on the floor of the tub upstairs in the Catholic school’s rectory. “I’m at Pope John,” she said. “My daughter was here taking a shower. I‘m a teacher here. She’s on the ground in the shower.”
During the exchange with the dispatcher, Karen Delea said her daughter’s eyes were open and her lips were blue. She alternately said there was somebody there with her and that she was alone.
While waiting for emergency personnel to reach the scene, the dispatcher asked the mother to assess whether her daughter was breathing. At first, Delea said no.
“I don’t know what she did,” she told the dispatcher as she screamed her daughter’s name.
Eventually, Hannah Delea can be heard responding to her mother, who told the dispatcher that her daughter told her she was “just tired.”
The police report said the daughter was found “conscious and alert” when first-responders reached the scene. The report also said Hannah Delea “stated she had no water at her house and Father McHugh had allowed her to shower at the rectory, since her mother worked at the school.” The Rev. Msgr Kiernan McHugh is president of the school administration.
McHugh, who lives in the rectory where the incident occurred, did not respond to a request for comment.
Richard Sokerka, the director of communication for the Diocese of Paterson’s Catholic Schools confirmed an incident occurred but offered little more in the way of comment. “Given this is a police matter, we can confirm that there was a medical emergency that was health related at Pope John on May 3 and a 911 call was made for immediate medical assistance,” he said.
Sparta Police Officers Daniel Florio, Timothy Lynott and Frank Schomp responded to the scene.
Before ending the call when emergency assistance arrived, the dispatcher is heard asking for the caller’s name and address. Sparta Water Utility Administrative Assistant Denise Amato said the water was not shut off at her address on the day of the incident.
She said work was done to replace the meter on May 11, requiring the water to be temporarily shut off there, but not on May 3. Township officials also said the apartments at 106 Main Street do not have sub-meters so they could not be individually shut off.
Hannah Delea was transported to Newton Medical Center for evaluation, said police.
Sparta Police Lt. John-Paul Beebe said the incident revealed the importance of people quickly reporting possible drug overdoses. “You should always call the police first and never handle any narcotics or paraphernalia yourself,” he said.
Beebe went on to explain the law signed by Gov. Chris Christie in May 2013 specifies anyone who calls in a suspected drug overdose is shielded from prosecution. “Instead of viewing them as someone who has committed a crime, it properly views it for what it is … a person who is in a life threatening situation that needs immediate medical attention. There is no need to attempt to clean up the scene before calling for help.”
Regarding the incident at the Pope John rectory, Beebe said, “The heroin overdose in one of our local high schools is an alarming life threatening continuation of what we are seeing not only in our community but across the state and nation.”
Beebe said the 2014 Governor’s Task Force on Heroin and Other Opiates Use by New Jersey’s Youth and Young Adults identifies heroin and opiate abuse as “the number one health care crisis,” confronting the state.
This report notes a 5-year increase of more than 200 percent in the number of admissions to treatment programs for prescription drug abuse. That number rises to a 700 percent increase over the last decade, according to the report.
“New Jersey has some of the highest octane heroin there is, with purity levels that have been found to be as high as 95 percent,” said Beebe. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency the national average for heroin purity is around 31 percent. New Jersey averages between 40 and 50 percent, said the DEA.
“The heroin epidemic is escalating, with no end in sight,” said Beebe. “As long as the price of this drug continues to plummet and the demand continues to soar, communities such as ours will see an increase in overdoses, fatalities and collateral crimes.”
Sparta Police have partnered with the Center for Prevention and Counseling in Newton, according to Beebe. “It is here that we make the majority of our referrals to individuals with substance abuse problems.”
He encouraged any resident with questions or concerns about substance abuse “or the toll it is taking on our community,” to contact the Sparta Police at 973-729-6121. “For all emergencies as always dial 911,” said the lieutenant.