Pubdate: Sun, 07 Oct 2012
Source: Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ)
Copyright: 2012 Newark Morning Ledger Co
Authors: Dan Goldberg and James Queally


"Where you been?" was all the text message said. But it meant much 
more. A dealer had a new stash. He was nearby and ready to deliver.

"Had some bad Chinese food" is another text message that seemed 
innocuous to a parent. But to her teenage son it meant someone has a 
bad batch of heroin and should be avoided.

On Facebook, the messages can be even more explicit, letting buyers 
know exactly what's available and where.

"The beauty of the internet," sighed Morris County Prosecutor Robert 
Bianchi. "At a push of a button, there could be distribution schemes 
that are occurring and people being able to get it."

With sprawling highways, one of the nation's largest airports and 
three large ports, the state has the infrastructure to support a 
successful heroin racket. Now, thanks to a surge in painkiller 
addictions and some clever new marketing by dealers, the state's 
heroin economy is booming.

The war against hard drug use moved from the state's urban centers to 
quiet suburbs years ago, but officials say this is a new surge unlike 
anything they have seen before.

"What is significant about this cycle is the introduction of 
prescription opiates that have come upon the scene," said Hunterdon 
County Prosecutor Anthony Kearns III. "We're seeing a greater number 
of addictions to heroin as a result of prescription painkillers."

The market is flooded, the price has dropped, and with a generation 
of young, tech-savvy opiate addicts running low on cash and pills, 
the demand has exploded.

"I would say it's an epidemic," said Dover Detective Sgt. Richard 
Gonzalez. "It's stronger, it's cheaper and a lot of kids think it's 
popular, so they try it once and then they are hooked."

Statewide, the number of New Jerseyans between the ages of 18 and 25 
admitted to addiction treatment centers for heroin rose by more than 
12 percent between 2010 and 2011, the last year for which data is 
available, according to Gov. Chris Christie's Council on Drug and 
Alcohol Abuse.

Drug dealers - like all good businessmen - are seeing opportunities 
to franchise, setting up in Morris, Cape May, Sussex, Monmouth, 
Ocean, Warren and Hunterdon. And they found an easy, new way to reach 
customers. Police refer to it as the "safety premium."

Suburban high school students, afraid or unable to travel to urban 
centers like Irvington or Paterson, can pay a little extra to have 
heroin delivered to their neighborhoods. A bag of heroin that costs 
$5 in Newark can cost $10 in Morristown and as much as $15 in Sussex, 
police say. Think of heroin as a commodity, accruing value as it 
makes its way to market. Suburban kids can afford both the drug and 
to compensate dealers for the risk of delivering it.

Kearns has been sounding the alarm for more than a year.

The impression most people have of heroin is outdated, he said. The 
face of heroin isn't thugs on street corners, peddling to junkies. 
It's teenagers in their bedrooms sending texts.

As evidence, consider this: The highest per capita rate of treatment 
admissions for patients under 25 isn't in Essex or Camden counties, 
according to the state's division of mental health and addiction services.

It's in Cape May.


There is now so much heroin in New Jersey that a first hit can cost 
as little as $1. But once hooked, the craving can be insatiable and 
spark hundred-dollar-a-day appetites. And because addicts need a 
ready source of cash, robberies, assaults and thefts are all on the 
rise in communities prized for their tranquility, police said.

"There is a tremendous ripple effect that no one appreciates," said 
Tom Reed, assistant prosecutor assigned to the Sussex County 
narcotics task force. "People say it is a victimless crime that only 
hurts the users.

"Nonsense! I got a jail full of people (who) have hurt others."

Because when addicts are finished robbing their families and friends, 
they often move on to neighbors' homes and cars.

"A lot of the suspects we bring in on burglaries, they are all saying 
that the reason they are doing it is to support their heroin habit," 
said Dover Detective Sgt. Gonzalez.

This summer, Toms River had 10 overdoses in the span of a week. 
Nearly all the victims were in their 20s, and three of them died.

"Over 90 some percent of our crime is directly related to pills or 
heroin, for thefts and burglaries," Toms River Police Chief Michael 
Mastronardy said. "The heroin is very bad here."

While Toms River, and Ocean County, offer plenty of rehabilitative 
services, Mastronardy said addicts are rarely cured the first time. 
He says he's tired of locking up strung-out young men and women, 
because he knows that won't solve anything.

"What can we do? Do we lock them up?" he asked. "I don't know."

Mastronardy's frustration is nothing compared to that felt by parents 
of addicted teens.

Every night Colleen goes to bed in Morris County with the few 
valuables she has left so her 17-year old son won't pawn them. Her 
cash, credit cards and car keys are tucked into her pajamas or under 
her pillow. She wears the one bracelet she still owns. Her son has 
stolen heirlooms, jewelry.

He has robbed family and neighbors.

Colleen, who agreed to be interviewed on the condition her last name 
not be used in order to protect her son, said she knows what's wrong 
with her child. She sees the evidence on his arms and in his eyes. 
He's been hooked for three years and began using drugs as early as 
middle school.

Facebook and text messaging allowed him to monitor fresh supplies.

She has tried everything to help her son beat the drug. She has 
punished and yelled, cajoled and coerced, bribed and begged, but 
feels there is an undertow pulling him away.

"I wish my son would just die already," Colleen said, "so I could get 
this over with."

Colleen's son, like so many of New Jersey's newest heroin users, got 
his first taste of opiate addiction from the medicine cabinet.

Teens and 20-somethings have fallen into what the Drug Enforcement 
Administration calls a "cycle of addiction," graduating from 
painkillers to heroin, according to Brian Crowell, the DEA's top 
agent in New Jersey.

"The problem is it escalated so fast, doctors were unintentionally 
overprescribing the pain pills like they were antibiotics" he said. 
"There were so many painkillers out there in people's medicine 
cabinet that it just created a massive wave of heroin users."

When the pills became too scarce or too expensive, addicts still 
needed to get high and so they switched to heroin.

"That transition happens when the medicine cabinet runs dry and they 
can no longer afford, on the black market, to use the pill form and 
transition on to cheap bags of heroin," said John Hulick, head of 
Governor Chris Christie's Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse.

Rick Incremona, first assistant prosecutor in Monmouth County, 
likened it to switching from a name brand to the generic.

"They like the high they have gotten from prescription narcotics but 
are looking for a cheaper, more readily available alternative," he said.


The painkiller boom has been well documented, and earlier this year 
state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa announced a program to track 
every prescription filled in New Jersey for controlled dangerous 
substances such as OxyContin, Adderall and Valium, including 
information on patients, doctors and pharmacies.

But law enforcement officials fear they may be fighting yesterday's 
problem. Thousands of teenagers have moved on, they say. And now, 
according to Crowell, heroin and all the problems it can cause are 
the "number one threat" to public safety in the Northeast.

While the Attorney General's Office has publicly campaigned against 
painkillers, Chiesa has said little about heroin addiction during 
press events in the past year. In a recent interview, however, the 
state's top cop said the heroin boom stunned him as much as it did 
other leaders in Trenton.

"This is something that's new to me as a parent," Chiesa said. "I 
didn't know this was as big of an issue as it was."

Chiesa cited a series of heroin busts made by his office in recent 
months, and said he has focused on raising awareness about painkiller 
addiction, in part, to prevent teens hooked on oxycodone and other 
substances from turning to heroin.

"It is a significant problem, and it's one that we're well aware of 
and our efforts are going in both directions," he said.

The problem also caught Gov. Chris Christie's attention earlier this 
year, and he commissioned a task force led by Hulick. Hulick said the 
task force, which includes officials from the Drug Enforcement 
Administration, the Attorney General's Office and former Gov. Jim 
McGreevey, was commissioned to combat "an epidemic of heroin and 
other opiate abuse," among the state's younger population. Their full 
report is due out at the end of the year.

"The stories are very consistent," Hulick said. "They started on 
prescription painkillers and ended up using intravenous heroin."


Heroin addiction has been described as a series of broken promises to 
yourself. You'll snort but never use a needle. Okay, a needle, but 
never steal. Okay steal, but never prostitute. The lines get crossed 
as the addiction takes hold. Users soon become dealers, relying on 
that money from the safety premium to pay for their own habit. It's 
good business. Buy enough heroin to supply your friends and neighbors 
and use the profits to help pay for your own habit.

But it's a dangerous business as well.

Often, addicts will shoot up as soon as they land a new bag of 
heroin, and then take to the state's highways.

"These people are getting on the roads and they are all drugged up," 
Crowell said. "Some nights we have more drugged drivers out there 
than we do drunk drivers."

Though many have multiple arrests on their record, the risk they take 
in transporting the drug is a mark of how effective the business has 
become, police say.

In July, Butler police stopped a car heading north on Route 23 and 
confiscated 95 bags of suspected heroin. After stopping the vehicle, 
police said they noticed the driver, Vincenzo Milazzo, 22, had "fresh 
injuries on (his) arms consistent with recent drug use."

Just one week earlier, Kinnelon cops say they discovered 56 bags of 
heroin in a car on the same road.

The money heads south to Newark or Paterson and heroin comes back, 
said Kinnelon Lt. John Schwartz. "It's a very, very busy corridor," 
Schwartz said. "Heroin is so insidious that you take it, you don't 
get high anymore, you just take it so you don't get sick."

There's chemistry behind that. The purer the heroin, the easier it is 
for the body to metabolize it. That stereotypical strung-out look is 
usually the result of additives that dilute the heroin.

New Jersey heroin is roughly 50 percent pure, some of the highest 
quality in the nation, said Special Agent Douglas Collier, spokesman 
for the state chapter of the DEA.

Our state's buyers demand nothing less: Having already been hooked on 
the good stuff, dealers know they can't provide lesser quality.

Crowell says Colombian drug smugglers move high-grade heroin directly 
into the area through Newark Liberty International Airport and ports 
in Newark, Elizabeth and Camden. The easy access shortens the journey 
from poppy fields in South America to drug addicts in New Jersey's 
cities and suburbs, Crowell said. That ups the purity and lowers the price.

"There's so many gateways into the region," Crowell said. "From the 
farm to the arm, it is really a short process here in this part of 
the country."

In Morris County, where two teenagers recently died from heroin 
overdoses, Prosecutor Bianchi said one of his biggest challenges is 
getting parents to take off their blinders and realize high property 
taxes do not insulate them or their children from opiate addiction.

"You do get a lot of people who call about these drug-induced deaths 
and there seems to be a lot of deflection," Bianchi said. "There 
seems to be a lot of 'not my son, somebody must have gave it to him.' 
I hear that over and over again. ... And I'm like, 'well yeah ... 
somebody gave it to him, but yes, your son too, respectfully ... 
there would be nothing for that guy to give if your son wasn't taking 
the drug.'"

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EDITOR'S NOTE: John Hulick was previously misidentified as a former 
director of public affairs and policy for the National Council on 
Alcoholism and Drug Dependence - New Jersey. Hulick is actually the 
head of Governor Chris Christie's Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, 
and he is also the head of the task force Christie created earlier 
this year to combat heroin and opioid abuse in the state.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom