Horrors of Heroin Plague Garden State
New Jersey is referred to as the Garden State, home of rock icons Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi, the Miss America Pageant, Atlantic City casinos and sadly, heroin addiction. According to the Community Foundation of New Jersey, “since 2010, heroin has become the most commonly cited drug for emergency department and drug treatment admissions in New Jersey.” Although the prevailing thought is that addiction is an urban problem, it resides right along with people who live on tree-lined streets in upper class suburbs. Newark airport and shipping ports allow for easy access to drug traffickers.
The pattern of use is the same as it is anywhere in the world when prescription opiates such as Percocet and OxyContin go for $30 a pill on the streets while heroin runs $10 a bag or less.
According to 2014 report released by the Task Force on Heroin and Other Opiate Use by New Jersey’s Youth and Young Adults, this is the “No. 1 healthcare crisis” in the state.
Of the “1,320 drug-related deaths in New Jersey in 2013, 559 were positive for heroin and 183 were positive for morphine,” according to the New Jersey medical examiner’s office.
In early 2014, the New Jersey State Police said that three drug brands called Power Hour, Taliban and Strike Dead claimed six lives.
When Heroin Addiction Hits Home
A middle class suburban South Jersey family now has an empty seat at the dinner table with the death of 21-year-old Justin Wolfe on Dec. 19, 2012. He had kept his heroin use a secret from his parents until the day his father found his son’s lifeless body. The downhill journey began with abuse of medication he had been prescribed for several mental health diagnoses. His devastated parents looked for clues that might have told them about Justin’s suffering. In their perception, their son was a high-functioning, well-loved, happy young man, who they thought was engaged in treatment and on the road to recovery from an admitted addiction to opiates.
They have taken their pain and turned it into something life-affirming for others by founding Squash the Secret. The purpose of the organization is to educate the community and provide empowering tools for parents to assist them in recognizing the signs of opiate addiction, as well as advocating for treatment. One of the goals of the Wolfe family is to override the HIPAA laws that prevented Justin’s doctors from informing his parents of his heroin use.
Narcan as a Stopgap Measure
As a means of preventing accidental or intentional death by opiates, the medication naloxone otherwise known as Narcan, can be administered by EMTs, police officers and firefighters and now in New Jersey, by the general public, in the form of injection or swab.
The mayor of one New Jersey town has adamantly stated that this intervention is not enough. Mayor William Gotto of Howell, New Jersey, sees the need for Narcan as a sign that the drug problem in his community is not being appropriately addressed.
Gotto said, “If we have to deploy Narcan, it’s a failure, it’s not a success.”
While he acknowledges that Narcan saves lives in the short term, he recognizes the importance of treatment. Even after reviving someone whose life hangs in the balance as a result of heroin use, there is still a great likelihood that this would not be a sufficient wakeup call to launch him or her into recovery.
Is Vivitrol a Possible Intervention?.
Some addictions specialists see Vivitrol as an option for treating opiate addiction. It is a long-acting medication, given by injection once a month to ward off relapse post detox. Its initial use was for alcohol abuse.
There are pros and cons to its application, which include a high price tag, (sometimes upward of $1,000 a month), as well as the fact that the user has to remain clean while receiving the injection. The upside is that the medication blocks the pleasure receptors that encourage use. As an accompaniment to psychotherapy, Vivitrol can increase success rates.
In response to the opiate epidemic, the Mental Health Association in New Jersey launched a helpline for those misusing opiates, whether by prescription or purchased on the street. It is also a source of support for family and friends of those whose lives are torn apart by the horrors of heroin.