Manahawkin Drug Forum: Ocean County a 'Perfect Storm' For Heroin Abuse

Hundreds pack Stafford Township Arts Center in Manahawkin for second Ocean County drug forum

by Patricia A. Miller

The white paper bag luminaria were lined up three deep across the stage of the Stafford Township Arts Center. There were 106 bags - one for each drug overdose in Ocean County this year.

And very soon, there may be two more names to add to the list for 2013.

Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato told the crowd that packed the center last night for a drug forum that toxicological results were pending for two more deaths.

"Most likely, we will be at 108," he said. "Last year were had 53."

He thanked the crowd for coming on a frigid December night so close to Christmas.

"Your presence here tonight means you care," he said.

Then it was time for Douglas S. Collier, a retired DEA officer who is now a drug initiative coordinator and law enforcement liaison for the state Attorney General's Office.

Collier did not need a microphone during his half-hour presentation. His voice boomed and ricocheted off the walls of the auditorium and he went up and down the aisles to get his message across.

"Put your seatbelts on tonight, ladies and gentlemen," he said. "We have a program that will knock your socks off.

"The only way we can do this is thorough education and awareness. I need you for the fight. I have 30 minutes with you. I have to make sure I get my message across."

And the news is bad.

New Jersey and Ocean County are the epicenter of the heroin epidemic. Heroin coming into Ocean County is now between 45 to 60 percent pure, he said.

Forty-five years ago, heroin purity hovered between four to eight percent, he said.

Law enforcement authorities actually buy heroin from dealers, to test the purity and the country of origin, Collier said.

"We have the highest purity of heroin in the United States, right here in New Jersey" he said.

Coronato said after Collier spoke that the latest heroin purity sample results from a Pennsylvania lab was 70 percent pure.

And while the purity of heroin has skyrocketed, prices for the drug have plummeted to as low as $3 a bag, Collier said.

That makes it easier for tolerance to kick in more quickly. Users need more and more to achieve the same high, and can only function normally with the drug, he said.

"In the heroin world, it's called 'chasing the dragon,' " Collier said. "You are always chasing that next high."

Often the addiction cycle in teenagers and young adults begins with prescription drugs like Vicodin, Hydocodone, Oxycontin and Xanax, often found in medicine chests at home, he said.

That's why Project Medicine Drop-off programs - where people dispose of unnecessary or expired prescription medications - are essential.

"You don't need 90 tabs of Vicodin sitting in your medicine cabinet," Collier said. "You're enabling."

Teenagers and young adults soon discover that heroin is cheaper and easier to obtain, Collier said.

Prevention by strong family bonds, parental monitoring and parental involvement is key, he said.

"You can't be friends," Collier said. "You have to be a parent. Take the opportunity to discuss this. You have to have rules, limits and guidance. We are in a different world."

The forum also featured appearance by former New York Giants running back Keith Elias and rocker Richie Sambora.

But the highlight of the forum was an emotional speech by Maureen Morella, whose 25-year-old son Jesse is a quadraplegic, unable to speak, unable to eat normally as a result of a heroin overdose.

Come back to Patch Friday for her story.


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