By MICHAEL NUNES
FREEHOLD — Monmouth County law enforcement officials and lawmakers came together April 6 to talk about what they call a “scourge” harming their communities — deaths caused by heroin overdoses.
According to Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni, heroin addiction and deaths due to overdoses have cut through the entire county.
So far, according to Gramiccioni, 107 people have died due to heroin and opiate overdose last year, compared to nine who had died in the county from homicides.
“People often ask me as prosecutor, ‘What is it that’s killing people in our community?’ and I’m telling you it’s heroin and opiates abuse,” he said at a forum at Freehold Township High School on the spread of the drug in Monmouth County.
“More than homicides or vehicle fatalities, if you want to know what’s killing people in your communities … this is it.”
To Gramiccioni, there is a “perfect storm” of the increase in prescriptions being issued and the importation of illegal heroin into the region.
“When the prescriptions run dry, addicts turn to cheap, readily available heroin that’s right here in our streets,” he said, stating that this is not only a problem in Asbury Park or Neptune, but reaches into Rumson and Wall as well.
Of those admitted into county treatment facilities, 41 percent are for heroin or opiate addiction, according to the Gramiccioni.
According to Gramiccioni, those under 26 are the largest users of the drug.
“We learn that it’s considered kind of trendy or chic these days, almost like cocaine was in the ’80s. The difference is cocaine wasn’t killing people like heroin is,” he said.
The spread of heroin in the county has also caught the attention of local lawmakers who spoke at the event.
“The growing challenge that we have here in Monmouth County is echoed across the state,” said state Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth), whose office helped to organize the forum that sought to inform students as well as parents.
“We know that Monmouth and Ocean counties are in a particularly difficult spot as in Freehold Borough and Freehold Township alone there were 125 individuals that went into treatment, and across our county it was 2,378 [people who sought treatment],” Beck said, continuing to say that those affected come from a wide range of races and socioeconomic backgrounds.
“Heroin does not discriminate.”
To combat heroin overdoses, the county has rolled out naloxone, which is used to reduce the effects of a person overdosing on heroin or other opiates.
“One of the interested statics that I’ve found as I was looking at the use of [naloxone] the past two years, is that there are three counties that have had the highest numbers of overdose reversals. Camden leads the way with roughly 370 — Ocean County was right behind them with 280 and Monmouth County followed with 240,” Beck said.
Heroin throughout the county has some of the highest purity rates in the state, according to Gramiccioni.
“We have the sad distinction of sitting in the greatest heroin market on the face of the earth. If you want to buy heroin, the purest and best place you could buy it is right smack dab in New Jersey,” he said, continuing that this is due to Monmouth County being in the middle of two of the largest heroin markets — Newark and Philadelphia.
“In Philadelphia, you see purity rates of around 60 percent; in Newark it’s over 60 percent. What that means is that it’s not cut with a lot of fillers. That means when someone snorts or shoots heroin, it’s so pure it creates that high so quickly and that addiction that the body wants more,” he said, continuing that there used to be a similar problem in the 1970s, but the average purity in the drug was much lower, at around 2-4 percent.
According to Charles Webster, public relations officer at the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, there are some areas of Monmouth County that see heroin purity as high as 95 percent.
“Once use that, that’s it your addicted,” Webster said.
According to Gramiccioni, a typical “hit” of heroin comes in a bag the size of a stamp and costs around $3-$5.
A “hard-core user” he said, could use around six bags a day.
“It’s an epidemic that’s really hitting the Northeast. No one is immune,” Gramiccioni said.