Heroin Epidemic Spreads in the Garden State

By Kelsey Mitchell, National News Writer

New Jersey is just one of the many states experiencing a rise in heroin addiction nationwide. According to NJ.com, at least 128,000 heroin users exist in New Jersey, a population that when combined would be the equivalent of the fourth largest city in the state.

The heroin addicted population is one of diversity- ranging from city officials to lawyers and even teachers, according to NJ.com. As the statistics for heroin addictions rise throughout the nation and New Jersey, its population too is becoming increasingly more diverse.

Star-Ledger reporter Stephen Stirling has been collecting the stories of heroin recoverees over the past year, for a project called “Herointown” to raise awareness of the issue within the state. His project began by surveying heroin users, asking them to anonymously send their own narratives on their heroin use.

According to NJ.com, he received over 500 responses from users ranging in age from 17 to 79, the stories told of normal and unsuspecting people falling victim to heroin use- some stories being over 2,000 words in length. From this population, Stirling and his team has interviewed current and former addicts, inmates, family members, and law enforcement officials who have been impacted by the heroin crisis.

One county in particular is experiencing a rise in heroin use that is being described as “alarming”. New Jersey’s Ocean County has had 145 overdose deaths this year alone, a 22 percent increase from 2015 according to patch.com, an independent local news platform in 23 states.

Schools in the district are noticing a rise within their student body, and are concerned of the effects that these rises in heroin use could cause problems later down the road.

According to NorthJersey.com, the heroin epidemic is a national crisis, with overdose-induced death quadrupling since 2000. In New Jersey alone, heroin has claimed the lives of over 5000 people. Hope is not lost for victims of heroin abuse, however. On November 16, Governor Chris Christie signed a law that allows law enforcement to aid heroin addicts seeking help. Since law enforcement deals with cases of drug abuse first hand, the new law will allow those in need of medical attention and rehabilitation programs to get the help that they need.

Governor Christie spoke of the new law, stating that “this new law allows police officers — often the first people to discover nonviolent drug offenders in their worst state — to become a point of access for help and recovery.”

Under the new law, police officers and other law enforcement agents will receive training on how to better help the men and women they come in contact with suffering from addiction. Governor Christie had originally vetoed the bill proposed on September 8, stating that he wanted the law to be used effectively and “not as a way to avoid prosecution for serious crimes.”Democrat Valerie Vainieri Huttle of Englewood co-sponsored the bill and hopes that this will help to resolve the growing heroin epidemic in New Jersey. Huttle said of the law: “This ensures assistance from our law enforcement officials to work together with volunteers and advocates in recovery programs.” She added that “it ensures that an individual will not be afraid of criminal charges. So therefore the individual will not be afraid to come forward.”

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, November 22nd print edition.

Contact Kelsey Mitchell at

kelsey.mitchell@student.shu.edu

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