Searching for Solutions to NJ’s Growing Heroin Problem

June 18, 2013

The heroin problem in New Jersey has gone from bad to worse. As admission rates for heroin overdoses and fatalities continue to rise, law enforcement and communities are struggling to curb the dangerous upswing in heroin addiction throughout the state. A recent Star-Ledger report finds that heroin-related deaths have risen steadily, with 368 deaths in 2011 (up from 287 in 2010). Not included in these numbers are the nearly 7,000 “close call” overdoses by 18 to 25 year-olds admitted for treatment in the same year, with the highest admission rates in Ocean and Monmouth counties.

Now termed a “crisis” by Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato, New Jersey’s heroin problem is most prevalent among 20 to 26 year-olds –an age group that accounts for more than 60 percent of fatal overdoses each year. Statewide efforts to encourage responsible disposal of prescription pills has also increased the demand for heroin as a cheaper and more accessible alternative. Recreational users will often combine heroin with other substances, often without understanding the risks involved. Unlike prescription pills, street heroin comes in varying degrees of potency, which can lead to accidental overdoses and fatal chemical interactions.

Another theory explaining the increase in heroin is tied to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, with drug use seen as a method for coping with anxiety and depression.

State officials like Coronato are lobbying for tougher consequences for possession and sale of heroin. Coronato plans to deter dealers with the same “Strict Liability in Drug-Induced Deaths” law that was passed in the 1980s to curb “crack” cocaine abuse. The law allows prosecutors to charge a dealer with murder in cases where sold drugs can be linked to a fatal overdose.

CFNJ first monitored the status and impact of heroin addiction on NJ communities earlier this year. Click here to read more.