HOPATCONG, NJ – In an effort to convince residents a large number of drug arrests means the borough is acting against drugs--rather than fostering the perception that the municipality is a hotbed of drug activity--Mayor Sylvia Petillo called a press conference for Thursday morning, Aug. 22.

Petillo distributed a copy of her talk which began: “There are towns throughout the State of NJ that refuse to acknowledge that they have drugs in their community. Hopatcong has never been one of them.”

She noted that drug use is everywhere.

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“We’re saying don’t come to Hopatcong if you are going to sell drugs,” Petillo said. “We’re not going to stop until they figure out this is not a good place to come.”

She described several drug initiatives the borough has been involved in over the past few years.

The local media have been full of stories not only about drug arrests in Sussex County towns, but also about Route 23 becoming a “drug corridor” west out of Paterson.

The last arrest in the borough was of a man from Paterson, Petillo pointed out.

The mayor and Police Chief Robert Brennan called on citizens to pay attention to what is going on in their neighborhoods.

Brennan said when he was hired 20 years ago the biggest problem in Hopatcong was drunken driving. Because the bars closed an hour later than in other nearby towns, people would come into the borough between 2 and 3 a.m. and often get caught or cause accidents. As municipalities moved toward a more uniform closing time, that problem abated, but others arose.

The chief credited an initiative by detectives in Hopatcong, Mt. Arlington and Roxbury for helping with recent arrests. “We have always worked together when it’s effective,” he said, adding this is the first time such an extensive cooperative effort was launched.

Another point Petillo made was that the nature of drug use has changed.

“It’s not marijuana anymore,” she said, “it’s prescription drugs and heroin.”

The police department has a permanent repository for prescription drugs. “Just put them in a baggie,” Brennan said. Pharmacies used to take care of collecting unfinished drugs, but the police took over the job.

“There are brochures about our collection in the pharmacies,” Lt. Thomas Kmetz noted.

Brennan added that it is important to dispose of these drugs properly, not to flush them down the toilet.

As for heroin, it has become more popular because “it’s cheap and you get more bang for your buck,” Brennan said.

Petillo said heroin is cheaper than prescription opiates and “kids think they are immune” from becoming addicted. The heroin on the streets today is known to become highly addictive very quickly.

Sussex County Freeholder George Graham attended the meeting and asked if the increase in drug use adds to other crimes, such as burglary and shoplifting. Brennan said about 80 percent of all crimes are related to drugs, such as break-ins of homes and cars.

He added, some crimes may not even be noticed, or at least reported, such as when kids break in to their parents’ medicine cabinets or otherwise steal from family members.