Community Foundation of New Jersey

Heroin Addiction in New Jersey: New Trends Create New Challenges

April 29, 2013

Is heroin in your neighborhood?  Recent data suggests there’s a good chance.

Since 2010, heroin has become the most commonly cited drug for emergency department and drug treatment admissions in New Jersey.  Nationally, the rate of first-time heroin users has doubled in less than a decade, so says the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Despite the reputation, heroin is not restricted to urban areas or, even more unseemly, certain demographics.  In New Jersey, heroin networks – direct from South America – pervade suburban counties as well as cities, with several access points through Newark’s Liberty International Airport and ports in Newark, Camden and Elizabeth.  Easy access to New Jersey’s cities and suburbs drives the price of heroin down and maintains some of the highest purity levels in the nation.  Drug-smugglers are attracted to New Jersey’s growing demand for cheap, high-quality heroin, making it a low investment risk and notorious hub for drug trafficking and drug-related crime.

While heroin used to be available primarily in inner cities, it’s much easier to come by in 2012.  Social networks and texting allow customers – many of them under the age of 25 — to place drug orders using code words and phrases.  Some dealers will even deliver the drugs for a small fee.  Online and mobile phone communication between dealers and buyers creates an elusive market in almost every county in the state.  What’s more, heroin addiction is increasingly common among young people in unexpected places.  According to New Jersey’s mental health and addiction services division, the highest per capita rate of treatment admission for patients under 25 is in Cape May.  And after heroin claimed the lives of two teenagers in Morris County in 2012, a local prosecutor reminded parents that the risk of heroin addiction is not preventable by social status, zip codes or higher property tax.

Heroin addiction often begins with prescription painkillers found in household medicine cabinets.  As prescription opiate drug abuse remains the fastest-growing drug epidemic in the U.S. and law enforcement cracks down on pharmacies, heroin has become an affordable alternative to prescription painkillers – that is, until addiction takes its toll.  Heroin can cause addiction after a single hit – which can cost as little as $1.  But as addiction yields physical dependency, the price for feeding a heroin addiction can cost upwards of $200 per day.

The overall cost of pervasive heroin addiction in New Jersey is immeasurable – lives are lost, families destroyed, human potential wasted and society diminished.  Addressing the issue will require increased cooperation among lawmakers and law enforcement, parents and community leaders.  Supporting residential treatment facilities, community-based programs for education and early intervention will help stem the tide of heroin-related crime, overdose and addiction.   As heroin addiction and availability continues to rise among young people, more families and communities will be impacted.  Advocacy programs for youth and families offer hope and recovery for those struggling with addiction.  Contact the Community Foundation today to find out how you can support healthier, drug-free communities in New Jersey.