The Jersey Shore, famous for sun, fun and reality TV, now has a new and less welcome distinction. Deaths from heroin and prescription drug overdoses in Ocean County, N.J., already among the highest in the state per capita, more than doubled in 2013, and three residents have already overdosed in 2014.
“It is a suburban epidemic facing us throughout New Jersey,” said Angelo Valente, executive director of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey. “A lot of suburban counties are affected at dangerous levels.”
“This is no longer just an inner city issue,” said Al Della Fave, spokesman for the Ocean County prosecutor’s office.
Last year, the county death toll from overdoses soared to 112, with the majority heroin-related, roughly ten percent of a state total of 1,188 overdose deaths. Three locals have already died in 2014. Over the weekend, two men died of heroin overdoses in Point Pleasant and Seaside Heights. Local police have issued a warning about a possibly tainted brand of heroin being sold under the name “Bud Light.”
Della Fave said the popularity of heroin and related drugs has risen because of purity and price and that DEA reports show use is spreading in suburban and rural areas of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Use of a needle is no longer a deterrent, said Della Fave, “because people are simply snorting the newer, purer product.”
Valente blamed the problem in part on young people’s access to medicine cabinets. “Prescription drugs are a gateway drug to heroin,” said Valente.
Ocean County prosecutors have even distributed warning cards to funeral homes so families understand the need to dispose of unused prescription medications, particularly those containing opiates, that may be left behind by the deceased. According to prosecutors, “It is our hope that these unused medications will be disposed of at the designated drop-off points so that they do not get into the hands of those who would use or sell them illegally.”
Della Fave also warned users that there’s still no consistency in how the product is cut. “Every time users take it,” he said, “they’re rolling the dice with their lives.