Recent Spike in Drug Overdoses in New Jersey
In the past few years, both heroin and prescription drug abuse have risen dramatically in New Jersey. There were 112 drug-related deaths in Ocean County alone in 2013, and a total of 700 opiate overdose deaths since 2009. The State Commission of Investigation has linked prescription drug abuse with heroin abuse, finding that powerful, addictive painkillers like Oxycodone are gateway drugs to heroin. Heroin is cheaper to buy than a pack of cigarettes, according to Senator Christopher J. Connors, who has recently proposed legislation to combat the heroin epidemic that is a “destructive force” throughout communities. More and more prescription drug addicts are turning to heroin as an alternative to prescription painkillers, and the result is an increase in stealing, robbery and other crimes.
Efforts of NJ Law Enforcement to Prevent Drug-Related Deaths
With the unusually high number of drug-related fatalities in New Jersey in 2013, lawmakers took strides toward reforming state laws related to substance abuse treatment and prevention. The Overdose Prevention Act, passed in May of 2013, has resulted in several significant advances and new Heroin Laws in NJ.
Immunity for Seeking Medical Assistance
First, under N.J.S.A. 2C:35-30, victims of drug overdoses and witnesses to such overdoses will be able to seek medical assistance without fear of arrest, charge, prosecution, conviction, and revocation of parole or probation for possession or use of illegal drugs. The hope is that individuals experiencing an overdose or witnessing an overdose will take action immediately, as they will be protected from any adverse consequences of seeking assistance.
Wider Prescription & Distribution of Naloxone
The second development in regards to Heroin Laws in NJ, is related to the drug naloxone, also known as Narcan. Anyone living with an addict is now permitted to have Narcan in the home, and may administer Narcan to an individual believed to be experiencing an overdose. Narcan is not addictive, and it reverses the potentially deadly effects of heroin. Beginning this year, police officers in Ocean, Hunterdon, Camden and Cape May Counties will be carrying an aerosol form of naloxone to administer in the event that they encounter an overdose victim.
Legislation to Enhance Drug Charges
Finally, legislation proposed by Senator Christopher J. Connors and advanced by the Assembly Judiciary Committee targets drug dealers by giving prosecutors the option to grade the seriousness of a drug distribution offense by the number of dosage units, rather than the weight of the drugs. In simple terms, under this legislation it is proposed that the possession of a single ounce of pure, uncut heroin would be a first-degree crime, punishable by ten years without parole.
Ocean County is Cracking Down on Dealers and Users
The Ocean County Prosecutor’s office is attacking the heroin epidemic head on. In a recent video posted to their website, the office has made it clear that the police are vigilantly pursuing dealers and users. Drugs and violence will not be tolerated in schools. To that end, drug detection dogs will be used in Ocean County schools, and the police in Ocean County are being proactive in the pursuit of dealers. Their no-tolerance approach is evident in the high number of drug-related arrests in January of 2014, as well as a recent prosecution under the “strict liability for drug death” statute, which holds dealers and producers responsible in the death of users. A conviction under this statute carries a sentence of ten to twenty years, 85% of which must be served before the individual becomes eligible for parole.
New Jersey Laws on Heroin Use, Possession & Distribution
Possession of even a small amount of heroin is a serious offense in New Jersey. A person who is found possessing heroin for personal use is guilty of a crime in the third degree, and can face a fine of up to $35,000, and up to 5 years in jail. The individual will also lose his or her driver’s license for a period of time ranging from 6 months to 2 years.
Possession with intent to distribute carries severe penalties, which vary according to the amount of heroin involved.
- Possession with the intent to distribute .5 ounces or less or heroin is a crime in the third degree. There is a fine of up to $75,000, and a prison term of up to 5 years.
- Possession with the intent to distribute a quantity of heroin greater than .5 ounces but less than 5 ounces, including any adulterants or dilutants, is a crime in the second degree. This carries a prison term of 5 to 10 years.
- Possession with intent to distribute over 5 ounces of heroin, including any adulterants or dilutants, is a crime in the first degree. There is a fixed prison term of 10 to 20 years, and a fine of up to $500,000.
Selling drugs within 1,000 feet of a school zone is a crime in the third degree, with a fixed prison term and up to $150,000 in fines.
NJ Criminal Attorneys to Fight for Your Interests
Partner Carmine R. Villani of Villani & DeLuca has years of experience representing individuals facing drug charges. If you have been charged with possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia, call our offices today at 732-965-3350 to schedule a free consultation.
The Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office is seeking long-term prison sentences, so it is of the utmost importance that you speak with someone who can protect your rights. Many first-time offenders in New Jersey are eligible for diversionary programs aimed at providing rehabilitation and support. Our attorneys can assess your eligibility for such programs, and help you achieve the best possible outcome in your case. Reach out to us today.