Egg Harbor Township experiencing startling increase in heroin use

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Photo courtesy of DEA/Heroin is a powdery opiate that can be injected with needles, snorted up the nose or taken in suppositories. Photo courtesy of DEA/Heroin is a powdery opiate that can be injected with needles, snorted up the nose or taken in suppositories.

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP – The high-profile death of actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman this week from a suspected heroin overdose placed a spotlight on a dangerous problem that Egg Harbor Township authorities have been dealing with the past year. 

Heroin arrests and reports of addiction to the powdery opiate drug have skyrocketed along the East Coast since 2012, and Egg Harbor Township’s incidents place it among the highest in New Jersey’s already inflated region.

In 2011 and 2012, police here seized a total of 595 packets of heroin. In 2013 the number jumped to 3,835.

The increase is staggering, said Egg Harbor Township Police Department Capt. Chris Ruef. The department has been prioritizing and directing the bulk of the its investigative resources toward combating the growing heroin local trade, which affects the quality of life for all residents, he said.

There is a correlation between drug use and street crime, he explained.

“Criminal activities such as burglary and theft often vary directly with levels of opiate consumption and are frequently committed by known recidivists that steal to support drug habits.”

It’s not only a crime issue, it’s a social issue, he said. Diseases are spread through hypodermic needle usage, and the constant need for a fix affects nearly every person connected to the addict.

“We rarely have a burglar in Egg Harbor Township who is not a heroin addict,” Ruef said.

Laura Stetser/Packets of heroin are marked with stamps identifying certain dealers as shown in the confiscated drugs held by the Egg Harbor Township Police Department. The powdery drug is folded inside of wax paper squares and often sold in batches of 10 for as little as $40.   Laura Stetser/Packets of heroin are marked with stamps identifying certain dealers as shown in the confiscated drugs held by the Egg Harbor Township Police Department. The powdery drug is folded inside of wax paper squares and often sold in batches of 10 for as little as $40.

Cheap and easy

He attributed the spike in usage to how little heroin costs.

A packet that cost $20 on the street 15 years ago can now be bought for $4 to $5, he said.  

“And very little of it does the trick,” he said. Each packet weighs only one-fifth of a gram, on average.

Heroin is sold in wax paper or foil packets that are stamped with a symbol of the dealer’s brand. It is never packaged in plastic like other drugs, Ruef said.

Packets are sold in “bundles” of 10 packs or in “bricks” of 10 bundles. Dealers also offer a “baker’s dozen” that includes 13 packets.

The goods are coming from the major cities of Philadelphia, Camden, New York and Baltimore, with Atlantic City becoming a rising star in the heroin trade.

Egg Harbor Township’s proximity to Atlantic City is a clear obstacle to overcome, Ruef acknowledged.

A Jan. 2 report posted on The Patch website outlined the growing problem across New Jersey by taking a look at the state’s database of reported heroin abuse in 2012, the latest information available. The article listed the locations with the largest number of heroin addicts in treatment. Most of the towns listed were urban cities like Camden and Jersey City, but the problem has snuck its way into quieter towns as well.

According to the data, Atlantic City was ranked fourth in the state for reported cases. Suburban Egg Harbor Township was in 13th place among all municipalities.

Ruef said he believes if those numbers had been evaluated as incidents per capita, Egg Harbor Township would be even higher on the chart.

The worldwide supply of heroin is believed to be coming from one source.

A Jan. 9 Newsweek article said that Afghan opium production has skyrocketed by 50 percent in the last year and is being imported to countries around the world, which closely follows the timing of the steep increase in heroin addiction in the United States and elsewhere. The farmers there find it more lucrative to grow the poppy plants needed for heroin production than any other crop, the article stated.

“This is where the heroin is coming from, and it’s linked to terrorism,” Ruef said. “We need to really direct resources to combat the import of heroin.”

Unless a comprehensive offensive is launched among all levels of government, Ruef said, local agencies can only continue to play defense.

“We are dedicating our resources to it, but the problem is still growing, which means we need more resources or federal help,” he said.

Signs of use

Heroin is a member of the narcotic analgesic family. It dulls the senses and creates a sense of euphoria and relaxation. Other similar drugs are painkillers like OxyContin and morphine. Users quickly need more of the drug to achieve the desired effect.

It can be injected, snorted or taken as a suppository. Some users also have been known to “trap door” the drug, which means lifting up a scab and shooting the drug in the wound and then placing the scab back down on the skin to hide the needle mark, Ruel said.

The effects last between three and six hours, during which the pulse rate, blood pressure and body temperature are all decreased.

Telltale signs of usage include track or needle marks if users are injecting heroin or redness around the nose if they are snorting the powder.

Users often also seem to be “on the nod,” a slang term for having a faraway stare.

Constricted pupils are another noticeable sign, he said. Droopy eyelids, a chemical odor coming from the mouth and a coated tongue are others.

Usage nearly always leads to theft of belongings or cash from friends, family members or neighbors.

“They are willing to do whatever it takes to get money for their next fix,” Ruel said, adding that the demographics of heroin dependency are widespread. “We see teenagers up to 50-year-olds, and males and females. There’s no one group that is affected more than another.”

Community involvement

Chief of Police Michael Morris said residents of Egg Harbor Township can take steps to help. It's going to take a balance of law enforcement and social services.

“The first thing the police department is asking of the public is to become aware of drug abuse, and the crimes associated with drug abuse, in our community,” he said.

“We are hoping that this article will help provide the community with a good understanding that petty theft, shoplifting and other property crimes are associated with illegal drug use. These types of incidents have impacted nearly every neighborhood within the township and have also adversely affected our local businesses at a time when profit margins have shrunk. With this knowledge we are asking the community to do a few things that can help us mitigate the impact of drug abuse in our community.”

He itemized ways residents can help:

– Report suspicious activity in your neighborhood.

– Talk to your children about the risks associated with drug abuse. Strong family bonds have proven to be a very effective deterrent to drug abuse.

– Immediately seek professional assistance when you become aware that a family member, friend or loved one has a narcotic addiction.

– Ensure that medications are stored in a secure location.

– Properly dispose of old or expired medications. The police department is installing a receptacle at the Municipal Building to accept these items.

– Always make a report to the police department when you have been a victim of a crime.

– Keep car doors locked at all times. Drug users frequently capitalize on crimes of opportunity to support their habit.

– Create and secure a record of valuables, including a description of the item, make, model, serial number and photo (including cellular telephones).

– Report tips. Crime tips can be reported anonymously to the Egg Harbor Township Police Department at http://ehtpd.com/.

Too often, people with vital information about crimes fail to contact the police because they fear retaliation or because they don't want to testify in court, police said, and the result of their reluctance is that many dangerous criminals who should be behind bars are still walking the streets.

Atlantic County Crime Stoppers is a nonprofit organization that offers cash rewards for tips leading to the arrest and indictments of persons involved in a crime.

Text TIP to 274637 (CRIMES) or go to crimestoppersatlantic.com.

For information on treatment see http://www.state.nj.us/humanservices/das/home/

To read more about heroin in Egg Harbor Township, click HERE.

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