Shore lawmakers call for stiffer heroin penalties
Measures in the state Legislature that would significantly increase sentencing guidelines for heroin dealers get a renewed push from the shore.
Senator Chris Connors and Assembly members DiAnne Gove and Brian Rumpf (R-9) introduced S-209/A-782, each of which calls for changing the criticality of cases, from the total weight of drugs involved, to the number of doses involved.
The lawmakers crafted the measures in consultation with Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato, who has initiated a multitude of approaches to deter heroin use that has plagued Ocean County in all age brackets, from experimenting teens to troubled seniors who can no longer afford prescription opiates.
Citing a 400-percent jump in heroin-related deaths nationally between 2002 and 2013, 2.7 per 100,000 people, documented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the legislators claim that New Jersey's rate in 2013 eclipsed it at 8.3 per 100,000.
They also cited the state Medical Examiner's finding that heroin contributed to 781 deaths in the Garden State in 2014, including morphine-related cases.
The bills also would turn distribution of one or more ounces, or 500 or more units, into a first-degree crime. Distribution of one-half ounce to less than one ounce, or between 100 and 500 doses, would be characterized as a second-degree crime. Distribution of less than a half-ounce or less than 100 units would be a third-degree crime.
The value of Naloxone, the overdose antidote also known as Narcan, carries unexpected risks of its own. It is shown not to be 100-percent effective, and the manufacturer costs have skyrocketed.
"Certain hospitals in the state have agreed to pay for the cost of Narcan, the drug that reverses heroin overdoses," the lawmakers said in a prepared statement. "This is significant in that it demonstrates how widespread heroin use is becoming but also raises concerns regarding the controversy related to the dramatic rise in the price of Narcan subsequent to its increased use by law enforcement and medical personnel."
S-209 is under discussion in the Senate Judiciary Committee. A-782 awaits action by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee.