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HEROIN: No Longer Somewhere Else

The first of an ongoing series about an epidemic that once besieged the cities, but now deeply affects the streets of suburban and rural New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and throughout America

At Stop & Shop, you only worry about the restroom when you need it. It's like the rest of place: Clean. No mold; no residual smell. Something the Point Pleasant Boro, N.J. store is known for. Even Proud of.

The only "graffiti" is on the light switch; it says "on" and "off." The worst things that happen are a leaky diaper, a locked door, or a line.

On Jan. 10, something very bad, and once unthinkable happened here. Something that's become too common, a symbol of a crisis that's plaguing Ocean County, N.J., plaguing New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the whole country.

Something that doesn't happen in a place so clean.

On Jan. 10, a 42-year-old was found dead here, at the only "big store" Point Pleasant Boro has. The Jersey City man overdosed on heroin, carrying five additional wax folds stamped “Bud Light” in red on his person. 

It was yet another sad case, another horrific way of validating that heroin is no longer the scourge of the streets, the back alleys and the abandoned buildings of the cities.

No longer the scariest drug, heroin is now among the easiest to get. It's among the most accessible; especially the high.

And as it becomes cheaper and more available, it's no longer the problem that's happening "elsewhere." Small towns, big cites, even rural farmland areas - they're all coming to grips with the sad fact that the number of cases in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and elsewhere has skyrocketed in just a matter of a few years.

In just a few years, the drug's purity has jumped from 12 to 65 percent, according to Al Della Fave, spokesman for the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office. With it, overdose deaths in Ocean County, N.J., home to Point Pleasant and other seashore communities battling it all, doubled from 53 in 2012 to 112 in 2013.

In the past three years, addicts who could no longer pay $25 a pill for drugs like oxycodone switched to the much cheaper heroin, often sold for $5 per dose in Newark and Paterson, according to NJ.com.

The number of people between the ages 18 to 25 who sought treatment for opiate addiction jumped by 12 percent from 2010 to 2011, according to NJ.com. There were 368 deaths heroin-related deaths in New Jersey in 2011, up from 287 in 2010, according to the state medical examiner’s office.

In the last two weeks of January, 22 people died in six counties in Pennsylvania from what authorities believe were tainted-heroin overdoses.

Young men and women are dying, but so are older parents with small children. People, like the man at Stop & Shop, his body aged way beyond his 42 years, have now become the face of the epidemic.

People who show none of the obvious signs are getting arrested. Some of them work desk jobs for big companies. Or they labor in the back kitchens of restaurants, and they're getting caught, sent off to rehab yet again.

Many of them were the kind of people once repulsed by the thought of sticking needles in their arms. In the autopsies that have become all too common, the medical examiners find needle tracks covering the arms, legs and feet of their lifeless bodies.

"It just takes over the body to the point that the addiction is hard, almost impossible to stop," said Della Fave.

A Problem for every town

It's in Point Pleasant Boro, mostly known by many as the place to stop for ice cream and gas on the way back from the beach. In 2012, 148 abuse cases were reported here. Deals, possession cases happen on the streets of this town; a Brick woman was recently arrested for allegedly having a hypodermic syringe and drugs on Leighton Avenue.

In 2012, Point Boro placed number 36 on list of New Jersey 565 towns with the most reported incidents of heroin and opiate treatment, according to a Patch report.

It's in Allendale, N.J., where a 22-year-old man was found unresponsive in his bedroom on Jan. 4. He was pronounced dead at the scene; investigators later determined he died from a heroin overdose. Two Paterson men who allegedly sold the lethal dose of heroin were later arrested on second-degree manslaughter charges.

It's in Lacey Township, N.J., where a 19-year-old, back in October, was arrested after he allegedly injected heroin while in the restroom of the local county library. The Lacey man was charged with possession of heroin and possession of a hypodermic syringe.

It's in Hatboro, Pa., where a 27-year-old woman faces 40 years behind bars if convicted in the heroin-induced death of her boyfriend, authorities said. 

In too many towns, case after case, arrest after arrest has some connection - however remotely - to heroin. In documents released to the media this week that detail Monmouth County's indictments, roughly half of the drug charges involve heroin.

But the authorities who are arresting those addicted to it, or pushing it, know that incarceration only goes so far. For every one who's arrested, another's waiting in the wings, ready to carry on one of the few industries thriving in an economy that's not.

"We call it, 'Chasing the rabbit,' " Della Fave said.

A week ago, Ocean County had its 13 overdose death of the year. Last year's number of 112 - once seemed implausible, and unbelievable - could very well be topped in 2014.

What's worse, however, is what's behind the numbers: Broken families, eulogizing and then burying another loved one whom, they thought, never would do such a thing. Or they had it licked.

In some cases, the family knew nothing about what was going on until the final, fatal moment.

"He was 90 days clean," said one Ocean County resident, just a day after she recently helped lay her nephew to rest. "That's what makes it more f--d up. He had so much to live for."

Her nephew was a parent, she said. Nothing ever showed on the outside, until November, when he was caught. "Everything was just fantastic," she said.

Through the rehab stint, the man, whose name is being withheld at the family's request, did his job. Played with the kids.

Then came the 90th day. A day that should have been celebrated. Three months clean.

On that day, he was found dead.

At his funeral, there were 250 cars. Lines were out the door at the wake. So much to live for, people say.

"I don't know where it failed," she said. "I'd see him outside playing with the children with the idea that it was going well."

A competitive industry that keeps growing

How it happens no longer matters. Indeed, the old stereotype of junkies in alleys, emblematic of urban decay, is an image that ended with the 1970s.

It's also a drug that's not just injected anymore. Snorting it was never enough, because it was never pure enough. For many, however, now it is.

The industry has become very competitive, Della Fave said. The drug lords of Colombia, Afghanistan and elsewhere have upped the purity as heroin has become more available, and its price has plummeted. 

"The cartels are making it purer because they're trying to be more competitive," he said.

So many will go to any depths to use it. To make a little more money so they can buy it, they'll sell it.

In February, a trio of Cinnaminson, N.J. residents already charged in a string of robberies were charged with armed robbery and conspiracy in the holdup of the Town Liquor Store on Route 130 in nearby Florence. An investigation revealed the defendants used proceeds from the robberies to buy heroin in Camden, officials said.

In the Stop & Shop incident, the heroin was laced with fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opiate that's as lethal as it is potent. The drug is up to five times more potent than heroin, and its use is suspected in recent overdose cases not just in New Jersey, but also in Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, North Carolina elsewhere.

Heroin laced with fentanyl is stronger, cheaper and more desirable on the street, Della Fave says. A user who overdoses can quickly lose consciousness, and stop breathing.

But they use it anyway, because it's the next great high, the next way to raise the stakes when they can''t be raised anymore.

"Once a person injects heroin into themselves, from there on in, they're no longer making rational decisions," Della Fave said.

Addressing the problem, and the needs

There are towns that still resist any connection to the drug, even as many of their own continue to struggle with addiction.

Indeed, Patch's posting of 45 New Jersey communities with the most cases of heroin and opiate abuse and treatment prompted some public officials and police officers to protest, saying the state's data is flawed, or easily misconstrued.

Even some of those arrested in recent months have emailed, or called, demanding that their pictures be taken down. The other guy had the heroin, they'll say. They were just driving the car.

Others say they not only acknowledge what's become, in their words, an "epidemic;" they've "attacked" it.

Like in Ocean County, where Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato has been dealing with it since day one, Della Fave says. In just his third week, back in April 2013, his office dealt with nine heroin deaths in eight days.

In Ocean County, Della Fave said every police chief has signed on to Coronato's attempts to deal with it. In heroin-abuse forums in Lacey and Manahawkin, the seats were filled, forcing just as many to stand. 

In every heroin-related death, a homicide detective from the prosecutor's office is called in to respond.

Having a clean image is important, Della Fave says. But nobody's clean anymore.

"It's here, and it's alive," he said.
Matt February 27, 2014 at 04:15 PM
By the way Michelle is incredibly wrong. She's been watching too many Lifetime movies and reading too many exaggerated pamphlets.
sammy February 27, 2014 at 04:22 PM
the conversation shouldnt be tit for tat about pot ; agreed , its not the gateway drug. the conversation should be about what do parents do? treatment centers? and its not JUST HS students. This is a drug of choice of working addicts, peple you and i interact with everyday and function. its cheap, its readily available and we need to deal with Heroin
Matt February 27, 2014 at 04:25 PM
Sammy, high school students, at least in Mendham, see heroin as an awful drug and stick to pot (and a few other things, but mostly pot).
Rose February 27, 2014 at 04:28 PM
I'm so glad you are writing this article. It's an epidemic that needs to end. I know too many people who have died using this drug. Knowledge is power!
Tom O'Connor February 27, 2014 at 07:46 PM
This article laid out the problem we are faced with in alarming detail, and all the posters here can do is argue over the finer points of what drug is the gateway to how we've arrived at this point in our local communities. Yeah, we're doomed.
sunshinestar February 27, 2014 at 08:21 PM
really people??? arguing over what got them there??? bottom line. heroin is killing our youth. stop pointing at everything else and address the addiction issue. any mood altering substance is bad . alcohol abuse is just as bad. difference is god forbid anyone should give up their "cocktails" or beer or wine. hmm then u get in you car and put everyone at risk. stop arguing and brainstorm on how to FIX this.
BAZINGA February 27, 2014 at 08:44 PM
100%^ sunshinestar. The schools...parents have to start at the schools. We pay taxes, and there is tuition...Make them start a program. Get enough parents together and they will have to listen.
J Bas February 27, 2014 at 09:36 PM
The Schools are to fix this because we pay taxes and there is tuition? What rock do you live under. The problem starts in the home. If parents had frank open discussions about drugs and alcohol with their kids it would go along way towards preventing this stuff to begin with. It's time people take responsibility in raising their kids and not just put it off to the schools and government. Another thing may be to lower the drinking age back down to 18 and quit arresting kids for drink beer. Part of the reason may be that we've strictly enforced underage drinking laws to the point where kids find it easier to use easily concealed drugs. With heroin there's no bulky package or smelly smoke to alert people around them. It's time we start thinking outside the box to try and get this under control.
sunshinestar February 27, 2014 at 09:56 PM
i am sure parents talk with their children. No one wants their kid to take drugs. The problem is that everyone's kid is at risk. They are one bad decision away from this issue. Kids make mistakes.. they experiment. if they have the "addiction" gene they are more likely to fall prey to this.
Simon February 28, 2014 at 12:21 AM
@matt: As one who grew up in the 60's and who attended a drug-infested university at that time, Michelle is RIGHT.
BP February 28, 2014 at 03:31 AM
Legalizing Marijuana will not make matters worse guys. Fact: Amsterdam still has the lowest number of drug related deaths out of any county in Europe. Since 1961 I believe when the law was passed. I have smoked since I was in college and never experimented with any opiate. So saying pot is gateway drug is utter non sense. Alcohol and prescription medications are the gateway drugs, which last time I checked are still legal and still killing people... I have many friends that are opiate addicts, some are alive, some are dead. Not one of them said man I wish I never smoked pot. Most if not all said "I wish I never went into my parents medicine cabinet." I think we should maybe start with these pharmaceutical companies, Dr's, pain management centers that are making the already legalized killer so easily accessible. But what do I know I am just a pot head.
jim February 28, 2014 at 08:07 AM
while i did correct the people who wrongly blamed this on marijuana, i also pointed out a major problem that leads to heroin addiction. that is prescription pain killers. a large percentage of heroin addicts get addicted to oxy's then move to heroin because it is cheaper and easier to get. doctors need to stop prescribing people to these dangerous drugs because people can get addicted when they are just following doctors orders. also people know how easily they can get them from a doctor so after tooth surgery or minor procedure they will ask for a prescription and go off and sell the pills. there are better options for treating pain such as extracting thc that will not get you high or addicted.
steve santarseri February 28, 2014 at 09:59 AM
I have to be very careful because I am regularly censored here, but let's also put some blame on the pharmaceutical companies. That is the new source of gateway drugs.
steve santarseri February 28, 2014 at 10:01 AM
Weed smokers don't turn into junkies. The anti depressants and oxi's are creating these ghouls
Michele February 28, 2014 at 10:28 AM
@JIM and the others who pointed out that alcohol is the first drug most use: READ WHAT I SAID AGAIN. Read it thoroughly. I said "ask any addict what was the first ILLEGAL drug they used and they answer POT". Alcohol is NOT illegal. Nor did I blame this entirely on pot. It is simply the first illegal substance nearly every single addict I have interviewed has stated they picked up. Many, many who smoke pot don't go beyond that BUT AGAIN "ask any addict what the first ILLEGAL drug they did was and they answer POT". I know this because it was part of my job to ask. The next step? Believe it or not it depends often on the environment you live in. ...sometimes what else is accessible in schools or in the medicine cabinet but it depends where you live. Sadly in the inner cities many went right from pot to heroin. Why? Simply because it was THERE. And so easy to get. By the way had you actually read my comment you would note that I also mentioned alcohol as a substance many turn to. I have no love for alcohol. There are no good outcomes for the person with the tendency towards addiction. They will always find something. Another thing that should be noted - there is actually a different mindset from the person who never goes much beyond alcohol to the person who falls for illegal drugs. So many get high just describing the tense thrills of trying to cop. It's a whole other lifestyle.. And to Jim...you "did not correct the people who wrongly blames this on marijuana" because like me they are only pointing out the connection. IT IS THERE whether you like it or not. We should NOT legalize pot for recreational use EVER.
Karen Buonomo & Starr Koplow February 28, 2014 at 11:20 AM
This is not about Pot or Alcohol. People with pain issues are addicted to oxy and go to heroin because it is cheaper. Our youth are trying oxy once and then go to herion because it is cheaper! They start in high school, at college, or their friends house, etc! These are good kids from good families. It could be your child! Anyone's child! It is an epidemic and has to be stopped! I don't know what the answer is, but oxy should be taken off the market and the doctors that supply the drug to teens should be put in jail for the rest of their lives. As for Heroin, we have to put more time and effort into getting it off the streets! How, I don't know . . .
BAZINGA February 28, 2014 at 11:25 AM
Here's what I've noticed JBAS...parents already have children addicted to the drug. Most of them don't notice until it's already too late. If they don't have the time due to jobs etc., then the convo with the kids has to start somewhere if they won't find the time to do it at home. So that's what I think under that rock I'm living under. Look at the police blotter...all young kids arrested with heroine. The program should be mandatory. Parents must also have the convo's at home. I've also noticed not one article has addressed the issue of communicable disease, i.e. HIV, AIDS, HEP...guarantee there will be an influx due to the heroin epidemic.
BAZINGA February 28, 2014 at 11:28 AM
*heroin
jim February 28, 2014 at 01:10 PM
"This is one good reason that Marijuana should NOT be legalized" that is the problem i had with your comment michele, pot being illegal or legal will have NO impact on heroin use. however doctors not prescribed oxy's would have a quick impact on heroin use. i dont care if pot is "illegal", alcohol causes a lot more damage to the body and is responsible for much more crime and deaths. the only reason pot is illegal is because people can grow it themselves and the government cant tax it. the true gateway drug is alcohol and jsut because it is legal doesnt change that. "Keep an eye on the state of Colorado where recreational use of pot is now legal. I have a feeing no good will come of that." yea keep an eye on it, they will have a great economic boost, save money and time with police and courts arresting people for smoking a joint, and be able to spend that time and money focusing on real harmful and deadly drugs like oxy's and heroin. people will keep an eye on colorado see how much it has helped them and follow their lead
Simon February 28, 2014 at 08:00 PM
@Michelle: It's an uphill battle, and I give you much credit for hanging in there. These people are seriously brain-washed and deceived into believing that marijuana substance abuse doesn't exist. If marijuana wasn't SO important to them, why would they take the time to comment so much about it on the Internet? As for me, I'm moving on, but I wanted to thank you for your efforts. Maybe you can save a few lives.
Simon March 01, 2014 at 01:51 AM
Colorado, the home of Columbine and Aurora and how many other mass murders? Is that a place to emulate? As if NJ doesn't have enough problems of our own. Fuggedaboudit.
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jim March 04, 2014 at 08:44 AM
simon- no one said marijuana substance abuse doesnt exist, just pointed out the fact that pot does not lead to heroin, pills do. i experimented with pot in college but havent touched it since over 10 years. i might have craved a slice of pizza after but i sure as hell didnt crave heroin. out of all the people i know who smoked marijuana in high school and college 95% of them are now professional adults with no drug problem. the 5% who did have drug problems "coincidentally" experimented with pills, most were prescribed to them after surgery and they developed an addiction. you people are the ones who are brain washed. hundreds of thousands of americans die from alcohol every year (that doesnt count drunk driving deaths), obesity is the biggest health concern in the US due to fast food and sugar americans eat/drink, kids are prescribed all kind of mind altering drugs, and doctors prescribe highly addictive pills for pain. but because the government calls pot illegal and your teachers used scared tactics you are brainwashed to think it is evil. o and because colorado had a couple tragedies you are going to assume the whole area is awful. would you say the same about sandy hook ct, or boston, or any other place that was struck by a tragic event caused by a metally ill person? actually your statement proved my point... lanza, the aurora shooting, and other mentally disturbed children who commit mass murders have been on prescription drugs! that is the real killer, if those kids were smoking joints theyd be mellowed out playing video games and eating doritos.
Simon March 05, 2014 at 11:44 AM
@jim: As I mentioned far above, I attended a drug-infested university in the late 1960's. I did personally witness how marijuana led to much worse drugs. Beyond that, for marijuana's own sake, I didn't like its effect on me (yes, I inhaled! Why would I lie like Bill Clinton, the pathological liar?) or on the people around me. It was a very negative influence at the time, and I regret its constant presence at a very critical time in my life. Just my opinion based on my own, unfortunate experience.
Heywood Jablome March 06, 2014 at 04:36 AM
Is heroin really that bad? The fact that these dimwitted children have such little moral structural support in their life that they would even think about doing heroin is appalling. Does anyone even care that these kids are graduating and then sitting on their asses due to a lack of motivation given to them by their parents. Stop buying them everything, make them get a job, reward them for SUCCESS not IDLENESS. Set up goals and aspirations for them and then teach them the way to do that. There is no reason we should be paying some schmuck to tell our kids to not shove a needle in their arm. If they don't know that by the time they are 16 then ship them to the marines the day they turn 17, end of story.
Ilene Guttenberg-Triestman March 17, 2014 at 03:33 PM
Maybe you should stop judging and educate yourself. Substance abuse is an illness. It is not a moral issue. It is a disease with a stigma attached to it. It does not discriminate. If someone in your family was affected by this horrible disease, you would not be so quick to judge!
Simon March 17, 2014 at 09:47 PM
@Ilene: I'm not one of your children, so don't lecture me as you would a child. Thank you.
Sadcitizen March 20, 2014 at 01:45 PM
These comments are really concerning. Kids are becoming addicted to heroin because parents now a days are stupid. as a 20 year old with a fulltime job, a part time job, and going to school all I have to say is why do your kids have money or time to buy or do heroin? Anyone I graduated high school with that has had a child, that child is being taken care of by the grandparents. Heroin is an epidemic in south brunswick because middle class parents enable their children in every way possible. If your kid is over 18, who cares if they're in school and need to "focus" on school. They're not focusing on school they're drinking with their friends. Anyone over 18 years old should have a job. Maybe if your kids had RESPONSIBILITIES and were held accountable for their actions heroin use wouldn't be so wide spread. And just a little tidbit for all y'all....... The "gateway drug" theory is BS.
Simon March 21, 2014 at 11:52 AM
Sad: I no longer live in SB, and this may not be perfectly "pc", but I find it difficult to believe that Asian Indian kids are part of any heroine epidemic unless they have been corrupted by the others.
Tom O'Connor March 21, 2014 at 01:33 PM
I won't comment on whether or not your comment is perfectly "pc", mainly because I don't think you really care. I would observe that it's dangerously ignorant to approach this current heroin problem with preconceived notions about societal segment behaviors...be they cultural, ethnic, or economic.

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