SPARTA, NJ – “The easiest quickest way not to be in the grip of heroin is not to get involved,” said Sparta Police Lieutenant John-Paul Beebe, addressing Sparta Police Junior Academy participants. “It is a decision that doesn’t just affect you; it affects everyone around you.”
The Sparta PAL gymnasium hosted a unique program on Monday, July 20. The participants, all wearing yellow T-shirts, shared lunch and played a little basketball before settling into chairs to hear some chilling information about heroin.
As he was talking, Beebe and Detective Jeffrey McCarrick showed the kids bags of small packets that had contained the illicit drug from a large drug bust in 2011. Beebe shared some statistics about heroine:
- in New Jersey it is now 97% pure,
- incredibly cheap at $3 a bag, and
- 95 percent of the crime in Sparta is drug related
- 8 narcan saves for heroin overdoses in 8 months.
Beebe said over and over it is the same pattern of behavior. Someone has a legitimate reason for getting a prescription for strong painkillers. Eventually the prescription runs out. But now there is an addiction. Buying the prescription narcotics illegally is very expensive, as much as $30 for an oxycodone pill. Oxycodone is synthetic heroine. Real heroine is much cheaper. With the purity of the illegal drug and the rapidity of the effect on the brain, it is highly addictive. Now the person is an addict and will do anything to get more drugs.
“Drug addicts are the best liars in the world. They will tell you anything to get out of a situation because they need to get their next fix to survive,” said McCarrick.
Beebe added, “They use up all of their money, all of their savings, sell all of their stuff, steal from their parents and then steal from other people.”
McCarrick said, “You can’t start [using heroine] because one you start you can’t stop. It’s a fact.”
Alex Morris and his mother Gail then came to talk with the children about their personal story. Alex, now restricted to a wheel chair, had tried heroin in 2001. He was a 17 year-old student at Sparta High School. He played soccer, was a musician and a successful student.
Gail told the story. No one was home at the time. When his mother returned after taking his sister to college, Alex was asleep on the couch. With no indication of any problem Gail covered him with a blanket and went to bed. The next morning, surprised he had not yet gotten up, Gail tried to rouse Alex. She found “his beautiful 17-year-old body stiff with his head cocked back and he was barely breathing.” She called 911. Beebe was one of the responding officers.
Morris recounted the next hours, days and weeks as the horrifying effects of a heroin overdose revealed themselves. For six weeks Alex remained in a coma. “Not like you see on TV.” He would be jumping around on the bed, still not conscious. “His friends came to see him and ran from the room because it was scary.”
He finally fluttered his eyes, arising out of the coma. The ordeal was far from over. An entirely different life was beginning.
Alex was initially blind, unable to speak or move. Day by day, hour by hour he continues to make his recovery. He can now see in a limited way, speak for short periods, but cannot move his limbs voluntarily. Gail is always with him, caring for him, helping him with his recovery.
They showed a video made by the New York Times about Alex and Gail's post-overdose world.
Gail continued to explain in detail, in an ever quieting voice, what the recovery has been like. She explained the challenges of eating and breathing, of a brain and body that is damaged but trying to recover.
Gail and Beebe said they talked to Alex’s friends and classmates and have pieced together a sketch of the time before Alex took the heroin. Alex had called a friend to say he was going to try the drug and that he purchased it from a classmate. That is all they know and Alex does not have a memory of that time.
Beebe said, “Fourteen years ago we went to the house and didn’t know what was going on. [Gail] had absolutely no reason to think he used drugs. It was probably the first time he had tried it. Alex is a young man who made a poor decision. That’s it.”
“This is not an acceptable outcome for a mistake,” said Gail. “The point is don’t make the mistake in the first place.”
Beebe and McCarrick continued to tell the participants other stories of addicts. “Going to jail is the least of your problems,” said Beebe.
Fourth grade student Charlie said, “I wanted to come to this camp because I always hear stories about this but I wanted to learn about how this is going. To actually learn what this stuff is. It teaches me not to do it.”
Sixth grade James said, “It helps me to think about it now. I always saw [TV] shows but now I know it’s not good.”
In his second year of the program, eight grade Matt said, “It is very inspiring to me. If I keep coming, I will keep being inspired to continue to make good decisions.”
Sparta Middle School student Liz said, “This is a positive influence. It helps me to understand things better.”
Charlie said, “The bottom line is- don’t do it.”