SHU community affected by rising NJ heroin epidemic
It was Thanksgiving 2014 when Christina Dunham, a junior double major in environmental studies and Catholic studies, responded to a call as a Monmouth County EMT (emergency medical technician) for a heroin overdose.
Dunham said just one look at the victim made it apparent that it was too late: the patient was dead. It wasn’t until the next day when Dunham saw a Facebook post stating that an old friend from high school had passed away from an overdose that she realized that she had personally known the victim from the day before. Dunham said heroin made her high school friend unrecognizable.
Dunham described herself as “in shock” when she realized that she had been at the scene the day her high school peer died.
“I didn’t even recognize (them) that’s how old (they) looked, and (they) were blue,” Dunham said. “Like something you would see in a movie.”
Dunham’s friend was just one of the 781 victims of heroin overdose in New Jersey in 2014 according N.J. Advance Media.
Heroin addiction has become an epidemic around the United States. In New Jersey, the death rate from heroin overdose is more than three times higher than the national death rate. For every 100,000 deaths in New Jersey, eight of them are due to heroin overdose, according to N.J. Advance Media.
According to statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heroin killed 78 people a day nationwide in 2014.
Using annual state treatment data with federal estimates of the untreated drug abuse population, N.J. Advance Media estimated the total number of heroin addicts in New Jersey to be 180,000 people.
Statistics from the 2014 Substance Abuse Overview (SAO) by the Department of Human Services in Trenton, N.J. showed that Ocean, Monmouth and Essex are the three counties that experienced the highest number of citizens seeking treatment for drug and alcohol abuse.
Seton Hall is in Essex County, which had 5,672 citizens seek treatment for substance abuse in 2014; 2,311 of those needed help with heroin addiction. 1,176 of the people seeking treatment for heroin were from Newark; three were from South Orange Village, according to the SAO.
A Seton Hall student only needs to walk out the Farinella Gate for less than half a mile before crossing into Newark, the city that had the third highest number of people in the state seek treatment for addiction.
A total of 23,784 heroin addicts sought help for their substance abuse in New Jersey in 2014.
54 percent of heroin related deaths in New Jersey occurred in people under 40 years old and 4,792 people who received helped for heroin addiction in 2014 were between the ages of 18 and 24. 163 of those people seeking treatment between the ages of 18 and 24 were from Essex County, according to the SAO.
Kayla Moran, a freshman undecided major, had some experience dealing with heroin addicts as an EMT in Vernon, N.J.
Moran said the first heroin overdose she had ever responded to with her ambulance squad was the incident she remembered the most.
“I just remember walking down the stairs with the aunt who was crying and (the victim) was laying on the basement floor and I think the needle was still in (their) arm or on the floor next to (them) and (they) had aspirated and weren’t breathing,” Moran said. “The aunt was still downstairs and freaking out so me and one of my partners took her upstairs to get some information and try to calm her down. (The victim) was given Narcan before we left and I remember sitting in the back of the ambulance with (them) before medics got there and (the victim) was still really out of it, but (they) were at least awake and breathing.”
Narcan is another name for Naloxone, which is a drug that blocks or reverses the effects of opioids like heroin. It is used to treat overdoses in an emergency situation.
Dunham also had experience with giving a victim Narcan during her time as an EMT.
“My most recent OD (overdose) call was for a woman who was out of rehab one day and she snorted cocaine and did heroin.” Dunham said. “She went into cardiac arrest and we did CPR and gave Narcan and she got up and walked to the ambulance like nothing even happened.”
Although Narcan seems like a miracle reversal drug, Moran warned of the side effects.
“When a person is given Narcan, a lot of times they become violent and moody and easily irritated or sometimes they get tired or dizzy,” Moran said.
Victoria Macula, a sophomore nursing major, said her family has been affected by heroin because of her cousin’s addiction.
“We didn’t know that he had a heroin problem; well his parents kind of knew, but they tried to cover it up because they didn’t want the rest of the family to know,” Macula said. “He had been in the hospital one or two times before, but they just covered it up as like food poisoning and stuff. And then the summer before my freshman year of college he overdosed three times and he’s still alive somehow, by the grace of God.”
Macula said that her cousin’s heroin addiction has put her family “on edge.”
“He works the overnight shift at his job and he can’t wake himself up for anything so my aunt always has to call him to wake him up,” Macula said. “When he doesn’t answer the phone the first thing that people assume is that he’s dead. It shouldn’t be like that. That’s the first thought and it shouldn’t be like that. You should be able to not answer the phone and us not have a heart attack, but that’s what happens.”
Heroin does not have a specific demographic that it targets; anyone can be an addict, including a college student.
Seton Hall’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) offers substance abuse assessment and referral services to students struggling with addiction, according to CAPS director Katherine Evans.
“We do not provide substance abuse treatment as this requires highly specialized training more intense and long term treatment than is practical for our department,” Evans wrote in an email. “CAPS psychologists work with students to help them locate needed services (e.g. medical detoxification, residential or outpatient rehabilitation or outpatient counseling) that are covered by their health insurance. We follow the students obtaining treatment for addiction and assist them in managing the challenges associated with staying in treatment and managing their educational goals.”
Evans also stated that there are Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings held on campus and any students who are in recovery from alcohol or drug abuse are welcome to participate. Anyone in search of AA meetings on campus or in northern New Jersey can find information on nnjaa.org.
Ashley Turner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org