Pubdate: Sat, 08 Jun 2013
Source: Asbury Park Press (NJ)
Copyright: 2013 Asbury Park Press
Authors: Kathleen Hopkins and Amanda Oglesby


When a 24-year-old man died Monday in Seaside Heights, his death
marked Ocean County's 53rd drug-related fatal overdose this year.

Not even halfway into 2013, the same number of people died of heroin
and drug overdoses this year as in all of 2012 in Ocean County,
according to the Prosecutor's Office.

"I don't see it as a problem anymore. I see it as a crisis," Ocean
County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato said.

The spike in deaths appears to be the result of a poor economy, which
has helped to lower the price of heroin to about $5 a hit, the
prosecutor said. By comparison, prescription pills purchased illegally
can cost $40 or $50 per pill, said Al Della Fave, spokesman for the
Prosecutor's Office.

"Is there a problem with cocaine? Absolutely," Coronato said in an
April interview. "Is crack a problem? Yes. Why are we harping on
heroin? Because it's $5. You can't buy cocaine for $5. You can't buy
Percocet for $5."

In April, eight overdose deaths happened within seven days, Coronato
said. Six of those deaths were of people between the ages of 20 and
24, Coronato said. Five were heroin overdoses, he said.

"It didn't take long to see there was a death occurring every day," he
said. "The majority of deaths are from heroin."

In May, four out of five overdose deaths were related to heroin use,
Della Fave said.

Monmouth County has not seen a similar spike in heroin-related deaths.
As of March 26, there were 19 deaths attributed to drugs in Monmouth
County since the beginning of the year, and 17 of those were
attributed to opiates, which include heroin, said Charles Webster, a
spokesman for Monmouth County Acting Prosecutor Christopher
Gramiccioni. Webster did not provide more recent statistics, but he
said there were 88 drug deaths in the county in all of 2012, and 70 of
those were attributed to opiates.

However, heroin overdoses, although not fatal, have been on the rise
at CentraState Medical Center in Freehold, said spokeswoman Abbey Luterick.

Nine people have gone to CentraState's emergency room with heroin
overdoses so far this year, according to Luterick and spokesman Brian
Johnson. There were only two patients treated for heroin overdoses in
the emergency room in all of 2012, Johnson said.

Four of this year's overdoses have been since the beginning of May,
Luterick said.

"That's a lot. That's almost one a week," she said.

Officials with other area hospitals did not provide any similar

"The big thing is availability," said Dr. Michael Jones, head of
CentraState's emergency department. "It's all around."

Jones attributed some of the drug's surge in popularity to the fact
that it can now be snorted instead of having to be injected.

"It made it a little posh," he said. "Hip, cool people with disposable
income aren't likely to inject something into themselves. ... Nobody
likes a needle."

He added, however, that people who start out snorting heroin often go
on to inject it.

Jones said the people he sees coming into the emergency room
overdosing from heroin are in their 20s and early 30s.

"These are people who do not remember the horrors of heroin addiction
of the '60s and '70s, the disease, hepatitis and the AIDS," Jones
said. "These are alien concepts to the users."

To prevent future addiction, the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office is
starting to educate middle and high school students about drug abuse,
an age when many users begin experimentation.

"We're going to go into the schools. We need to go in strong. We need
to make a statement," Coronato said. "Who are we kidding if we think
heroin isn't in the schools."

In September, Coronato plans to bring drug-sniffing dogs with him to
enforce "drug-free" school zones.

"The intent here is to attack,'' he said. "I may not be able to
resolve the problem, but I've got to save some lives."

DARE (Drugs Awareness Resistance and Education) Chairman Nicholas R.
DeMauro said drug use has changed from the alcohol and tobacco more
commonly used by students about 25 years ago.

"We've seen the proliferation of other drugs, such as heroin and more
synthetics, and different creative types of drug use," said DeMauro.

"Drugs have always been a problem in every school in America," said
Carl Perino, assistant principal at Jackson Memorial High School.
"It's good that communities are starting to take notice."

The county prosecutor spoke at the high school as part of Project
Graduation, a day of talks aimed at getting students to weigh
consequences of their actions during the transition into adulthood.

For faster tracking of drugs back to their sources, Coronato has asked
police departments throughout the county to report any known cases of
drug overdoses. Before the request, the Prosecutor's Office was only
notified of a drug-related deaths.

The prosecutor's mission it not to lock up addicts, who Coronato
believes need treatment. Rather, the goal is to find and arrest the

One of the steps Coronato took after taking office in March was to
split the office's Special Operations Group, which targets narcotics,
into a northern unit and a southern unit. Four detectives and a
sergeant are assigned to the southern unit.

"I think the southern part of the county has been ignored," he said,
saying that statistics show there have historically been more drug
arrests in the northern part of Ocean County.

In addition, Coronato hopes laws change that regulate how heroin
dealers are charged. Currently, heroin offenses are issued by weight,
but Coronato hopes to see the number of doses used instead. Because
heroin doses are so small and lightweight, a dose-driven charge would
bring with it steeper penalties.

For instance, it takes possession of 1,000 or more bags of heroin to
achieve the weight of more than a half-ounce, which makes it a
second-degree crime, punishable by five to 10 years in prison,
authorities said. Possession of less weight is a third-degree crime,
which has a maximum penalty of five years in prison but for which
there is a presumption of no jail time for first-time offenders.

"The Legislature needs to revisit this so it becomes more of a
penalty," Coronato said.

The prosecutor said he plans to put drug dealers in jail, and use
money confiscated from them to run programs in schools.

He said: "We've confiscated $300,000 and 15 cars in 30 days and
arrested over 35 people, and I can assure you that's only the
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