dailyrecord: Morris Prosecutor: Let's end the demand for heroin and opiates


, @PeggyWrightDR10:33 a.m. EDT October 2, 2016

Rockaway police officers used to cheer years ago when a bag or two of marijuana was seized during an arrest but today the borough's roadsides are littered with syringes and any shift might see officers responding to people overdosing from heroin.

"I've been doing this for almost 29 years and this year, particularly for heroin overdoses, we had four in a very fast period of time. One mother woke up on Mother's Day and found her son deceased on the floor. So, that really hammered it home when the mother said to me 'You know, I thought the hardest thing in my life was actually going to be turning my child in to the police. Today, the hardest thing I have to do is bury my child,'" Rockaway Police Chief Douglas Scheer said.


Scheer, a former president of the Morris County Police Chiefs Association, was among the speakers at a clergy and community outreach program on the heroin and opiate epidemic hosted last Wednesday by Morris County Prosecutor Fredric M. Knapp at the county's Public Safety Training Academy in Parsippany. The program, the latest in a series of outreach seminars held by Knapp for clergy, police, municipal and county officials, focused on finding solutions to an insatiable demand for heroin and opioids and reducing the numbers of deaths.

Between Jan. 1, 2014 and Dec. 31, 2015 in Morris County, there were 78 fatal overdoses. So far this year, 34 deaths have been attributed to heroin or opioid overdoses. In 2015, police or emergency medical personnel administered Narcan - the nasal opioid reversal antidote - in 50 cases but six people died. This year, up until the middle of September, Narcan has been administered 81 times but five people could not be saved, according to a power-point presentation at the seminar given by county Chief Assistant Prosecutor Bradford Seabury, who heads the special operations division.

"Our youth are experimenting with opiates earlier than they ever have before. This is what we're facing right now. New Jersey has the dubious distinction of having the cheapest and purest, the most potent heroin in the nation," Seabury said.

The path to addiction typically starts at home when common,legally-prescribed painkillers like Percocet, Vicodin, Fentanyl, methadone, Oxycontin and morphine are left in bathroom medicine cabinets, he said. One pill can fetch as much as $30 on the street or in the school yard. With the cost prohibitive for many young people, the segue to heroin is predictable, with prices ranging right now from $3 to $10 for a fold.


Knapp recounted a few personal experiences for the crowd, like the awakening he had when he learned the footsteps in the snow on his back deck belonged to a neighborhood youth whose addiction led to burglaries. The philosophy of law enforcement has shifted, however, he said. Instead of trying to lock up the users, the focus is on apprehending the dealers and getting treatment for the addicted.

"We target for-profit drug dealers. But we can't stop the demand without your help," Knapp said.

As proactive measures, the Rockaway and Jefferson Township police departments have partnered with the non-profit agency Morris County Prevention is Key. Through PIK's Center for Addiction Recovery Education and Success (CARES) project, the police departments have access to the most-up-to-date information on treatment and assistance programs for addicts, as well as access to trained recovery coaches who help addicts overcome the pain of overdosing and steer them to community resources and programs.

And nearly all police departments in Morris County are now using Narcan to help save lives of people who are overdosing. In Dover, Mayor James P. Dodd and Public Safety Director Daniel DeGroot announced last week they are participating in the county's Narcan program. Dover Officer Anthony Scinto facilitated the hands-on training that was conducted by Atlantic Ambulance training staff over a two-day period and Atlantic Health System's Director of Protection and Security Services, Alan Robinson, supplied the department with 20 doses of Narcan and the equipment to administer it.

Gov. Chris Christie this past week announced that recovery coach programs have been launched in Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Gloucester, Hudson and Middlesex counties, on top of existing, successful recovery coach programs in Camden, Essex, Monmouth, Ocean and Passaic counties. Seabury and audience member Barbara Kauffman, director of prevention services for Morris County PIK, said they are trying to persuade Atlantic Health Systems, the parent company of Morristown Medical Center, to allow certified recovery coaches to meet with patients who've been brought to the emergency room after being revived from an overdose through Narcan. PIK's website is www.MCPIK.org.

A spokesperson for Atlantic Health issued a statement about the use of recovery coaches: "Atlantic Health System is working to better understand the certification and credentialing process of recovery coaches. We take seriously the vetting and credentialing process of all medical professionals we allow to provide care to our patients to ensure they receive high quality care. As we continue to explore the role of recovery coaches in the treatment paradigm, we are working on ways to facilitate connections between patients and organizations that provide recovery services outside our facilities."

According to Knapp, Rockaway Borough also was a pioneer in the county in offering drop boxes for leftover prescription drugs. The prosecutor's office and other police agencies have been participating for several years in Project Take Back, which is a twice-a-year campaign to have citizens drop off unused medications at authorized locations.

Seminar panelist Dr. Mario Finkelstein, an addiction psychiatrist, recommended strict parental supervision and a no-fear approach to grilling children on their friendships and whereabouts.

"Supervision, supervision, supervision, supervision," Finkelstein said. By the time a child is addicted, he said, it's too late to tell them "Say no to drugs."

"Just saying no doesn't do anything," he said. "Treatment works, but not immediately. And, left to themselves, they will go back and use again."

On Thursday, Oct. 6, an estimated 2,000 volunteers across the state are expected to participate in Knock Out Opiate Abuse Day, a campaign of knocking on doors and speaking to community groups and health care providers about the need to stem abuse of prescription drugs. Morris County PIK is involved and all seven sitting county freeholders have agreed to participate.

Knapp gave an overview of legislation introduced over the summer by state Assemblyman Joseph A. Lagana, D-Paramus, whose district covers parts of Bergen and Passaic counties. The package of bills would establish a process under which a person could petition the court for the involuntary commitment of an addicted person; require every prescription for a controlled dangerous substance to be transmitted electronically to reduce the possibility of stolen prescription pads and forged prescriptions; add naloxone, hydrochloride and other opioid antidotes to the list of prescription drugs that are monitored as part of the state's Prescription Monitoring Program; and require certain health care professionals to meet continuing education requirements on topics related to prescription opioid drugs.

Knapp urged the audience of police, municipal leaders and clerics to be receptive to signs of addiction in the people they encounter every day and educate themselves on how to help.

"You're the people who are out there, in the clergy, who have the contact, the direct contact, particularly with our youth. You can talk to them, you can talk to your congregants, your parishioners, in a way that's not threatening," Knapp said.

 Staff Writer Peggy Wright: 973-267-1142; pwright@GannettNJ.com.