What does Twitter reveal about N.J.'s battle with heroin?

Greg Adomaitis | For NJ.comBy Greg Adomaitis | For NJ.com 
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on December 09, 2015 at 8:15 AM, updated December 09, 2015 at 10:55 AM

heroin tweetsIn this chart provided by Heroin.net, topics addressed when tweeting about heroin are listed by sections of the U.S. 

Dismay, bewilderment, rationalization — the emotions expressed by Twitter users in New Jersey when sounding off on social media about heroin were vast.

Most telling of all, according to the team at Heroin.net who conducted the year-long "Tweeting about Heroin" analysis, was when the anti-opioid drug naloxone was mentioned.

"That's what we really took away from this study in particular," said Erin Hogg, who spoke on behalf of Heroin.net, a group that aims to connect those suffering from addiction with treatment centers.

Means and measures

Hogg said the team who conducted the study, which gathered more than 16,000 tweets from across the country mentioning the word "heroin," "naloxone" or "narcan," used geographic information that's part of Twitter posts to parse out the 530 from New Jersey.

According to a July 2015 NJ Advance Media analysis of state health department data, fatal overdoses on heroin are more than triple those for the rest of the country.

"Twitter is incredibly effective in bringing together people with similar interests, opinions, and experiences. We found over 16,000 tweets from a recent 12-month period that mentioned heroin. This study examines the data to find out a bit more about who these people are and what they are saying about this deadly drug," a statement accompanying the study reads.

To put New Jersey's percentage — about 4 percent of the 16,000 collected — in perspective, larger or more populated states ranked higher on the list. California came in with 12.16 percent, Pennsylvania had 6.01 percent and Texas had 5.86 percent.

 

N.J. heroin death rate is triple the nation's

N.J. heroin death rate is triple the nation's

781 people died of heroin-related deaths in New Jersey last year, marking the fifth straight year the state saw an increase.

 

Hogg did say that the tweets should be "taken with a grain of salt" and a handful collected from New Jersey users just included lyrics mentioning heroin. Overall, "We did the study looking at Twitter because it's a very candid look at what people are saying," she clarified.

According to the study, a few events outside of New Jersey gained national traction on Twitter. A 4-year-old who brought a bag of heroin to daycare and a vivid Super Bowl ad were two of them. However, the son of Seaside Height's former mayor suffering a fatal overdose was another that saw major social media exposure.

The team also found that this study, the first endeavor of its kind for them, "speaks to the problem," of heroin abuse in New Jersey, Hogg added. "It's a look at what these people are saying at a grassroots level."

In their own words

From a Twitter user in Paramus, Bergen County, sharing local news articles to someone in Atlantic City saying, "It's [a] real bummer when you used to be friends with someone but now they are a heroin addict," a large number of the collected tweets show serious concern for friends, family and the community.

- "Love#Hugs to all parents out there who live with the helplessness of a child you lost to heroin. #Be Strong#Be Happy; it's not your battle," Twitter user BrennyJC, from Franklinville, Gloucester County, shared on Jan. 10.

- "4-year-old girl hands out packets of heroin at day care thinking it was candy," Alante856, a user from Penns Grove, Salem County, shared Oct. 7, 2014.

- "A person very close to me just overdosed on heroin and is brain dead. Please keep him in your prayers," a Somerset County user shared on March 9.

- "I hate seeing the number count for heroin overdoses in Ocean County in 2014," a Twitter user from Brick shared on March 26.

Then there are the tweets from people who are claiming to have plenty of other drugs for sale, others saying dealers and not buyers should be the ones caught and those openly sharing their perspective on how addictive it is.

"Really just the level of transparency," Hogg said of the take-away.

Of the 530 tweets from New Jersey, 31 mentioned naloxone or Narcan. Camden County resident Patty DiRenzo's tweet about Camden County police using the anti-opiod to revive an overdose victim was one of the 31.

"Quick action by Officer Bezich saves the life of overdose victim; [Camden County Police Department] officers have now saved 67 lives with Narcan," the department tweeted on May 3.

Then again, "I used to be a heroin addict, Now I'm a methadone addict," was what one Jersey City user opted to share with the world on Oct. 12, 2014 and 3:08 p.m.

Greg Adomaitis may be reached at gadomaitis@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregAdomaitis. Find the South Jersey Times on Facebook.

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