Prescription painkillers offer a gateway to cheaper narcotics, gangsters tell SCI
Garden State Parkway signs for Route 66 to Asbury Park. This is supposedly a heavily- traveled heroin highway. / STAFF PHOTO: TOM SPADER
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The tide of illegal narcotics use in New Jersey is shifting, with heroin currently the No. 1 drug in Monmouth County, according to a veteran investigator with the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office.
Prescription drug abuse statewide is on the rise among school-age children, who quickly can graduate from popping their parents’ painkillers to heroin, the new narcotic of choice, a procession of expert witnesses told the State Commission of Investigation in a hearing Wednesday in Trenton.
The testimony provided by SCI investigators, members of law enforcement at the county and local levels, drug dealers and gang members with well-developed business models outlined an evolving illegal drug trade in New Jersey that officials have pegged as a $1 billion a year — and growing — industry. Those taking advantage of the public’s hunger for drugs and the naivete of children who don’t know of the addictive nature of the narcotics range from unscrupulous or careless doctors handing out scripts, or prescriptions, to members of established gangs using legitimate businesses as fronts for drug sales.
The key to heroin’s emergence is its affordability, while availability is behind the rampant abuse of prescription drugs, the commissioners who oversee the SCI were told. A bag of heroin costs about $7; kids take pills from the medicine chests of family members and friends. When the supply dries up at home and a dose of OxyContin or Percocet, at $50 to $80, becomes too high, the new abusers turn to heroin.
“The link is there — OxyContin, Percocet to heroin,” said Lt. Edwin Torres, an investigator with the SCI. “Heroin offers a cheaper alternative, with the exact same high, if not better.”
What that means, said SCI Chairman Patrick E. Hobbs, is the very dynamics of New Jersey’s narcotics trade have changed, threatening public health and challenging the expertise of law enforcement.
“Today’s Percocet, Vicodin and OxyContin users are becoming tomorrow’s heroin junkies,” Hobbs said. “Heroin use is on the rise and it’s available for little more than the price of a pack of cigarettes.”
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Andrea Clurfeld: 732-643-4262; aclurfeld@njpress media.com