It's been only six months since the start of my tenure as an assistant prosecutor, yet it has become glaringly obvious that, even in the relatively rural (though affluent) county of Hunterdon County, New Jersey, heroin use among offenders is rampant. The toll was tragically and acutely underscored this past week when a drug court participant fatally succumbed to a lethal overdose of the drug.
Based on my own anecdotal experience, this excellent piece in the New Jersey supplement to The New York Times, entitled, "Heroin's Hold On The Young," resonated:
According to medical experts, law enforcement officials and crime statistics, that question has increasing relevance in New Jersey and the other suburbs of New York City, where the authorities say young adults are turning to heroin with alarming frequency.
Last year, the National Drug Intelligence Center, a component of the Justice Department, ranked heroin alongside cocaine as the most serious drug threats in the New York area. Over the last three years, heroin seizures in New York City — a prime entry point to the United States for suppliers from around the world — have more than doubled, to 233 kilograms in 2006 from 114 kilograms in 2004.
While use of illicit drugs over all by 8th, 10th and 12th graders is down in recent years, according to annual surveys by University of Michigan researchers, heroin use has remained steady with just under 1 percent of the students saying they had used it in the past year. And federal officials say heroin use is rising among one crucial demographic: young adults in suburban and rural communities, particularly those in the Northeast.
Other drugs are used by more 8th, 10th and 12th graders nationwide, although use of most drugs, like heroin, has remained fairly constant in recent years after declining early in this decade, according to the Michigan study. It said that of high school seniors surveyed in 2007, 31.7 percent said they used marijuana, 5.2 percent had tried cocaine and 5.2 percent had used OxyContin, one of the few drugs for which use had increased markedly.
Medical experts and law enforcement officials also say that as more young people in the Northeast turn to heroin, more are ending up in jail, hospital emergency rooms or the morgue.
In recent years, emergency room visits across the nation for treatment of those affected by heroin have risen sharply. In 2003, roughly 8 percent of emergency room visits related to illicit drugs involved heroin, according to the Drug Abuse Warning Network, a federal system that monitors drug-related hospital emergency department visits and drug-related deaths. In 2005, the most recent year for which comprehensive statistics are available, that figure was about 20 percent.