Jul 28, 2014
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Heroin "Epidemic" In Barnegat, Manahawkin, Elsewhere Prompts Legislative Action

There have been 82 overdose deaths in Ocean County as of Aug. 26, many of which were linked to heroin use

Heroin "Epidemic" In Barnegat, Manahawkin, Elsewhere Prompts Legislative Action
A heroin "epidemic" that's pervading Barnegat, Manahawkin and other Ocean County towns has compelled lawmakers to propose legislation that would attempt to curtail the local drug trade.

Sen. Christopher J. Connors, Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf and Assemblywoman DiAnne C. Gove have proposed legislation that would strengthen current state law by allowing drug dealing offenses to be graded by "units," rather than weight, of controlled dangerous substances, including heroin.

Enactment of this anti-drug legislative initiative would give prosecutors the option to grade the seriousness of a drug distribution offense by the number of dosage units involved, rather than the weight of the drugs, the lawmakers said.

In a letter to Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver, the Ocean County delegation highlighted the compelling need for legislation action to combat the rising tide of heroin use.

Connors, Rumpf and Gove cited alarming statistics regarding heroin use in Ocean County. Recently, the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office announced that there have been 82 overdose deaths in the county as of Aug. 26, many of which were linked to heroin use.  

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The letter reads as follows:  

Dear President Sweeney and Speaker Oliver:

 “Through this communication, we are respectfully requesting your consideration of posting our companion legislation, S-2781 and A-4151, that would strengthen current State law by allowing drug dealing offenses to be graded by "units," rather than weight, of controlled dangerous substances, including heroin.  This anti-drug legislative initiative was developed in consultation with Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato. Upon introduction, S-2781 and A-4151 were referred, respectively, to the Senate Judiciary and Assembly Judiciary Committees.

Enactment of this anti-drug legislative initiative, which has bipartisan sponsorship, would give prosecutors the option to grade the seriousness of a drug distribution offense by the number of dosage units involved, rather than the weight of the drugs.  The "units" reflect how many people might have been injured by the drug dealer's illicit conduct.  Reclassifying the prosecution of drug crimes would assist law enforcement in targeting major drug dealers who, under existing law, are able to avoid incarceration due to the weight classification presently used in drug offenses.  The charge by "units" would apply only to persons who distribute or possess illicit drugs with the intent to distribute.  It would not be used to determine the seriousness of "simple possession" drug offenses.

Allowing prosecutors the option to grade the seriousness of a drug distribution offense based on the units as opposed to the weight of drugs seized by law enforcement will allow for a more effective prosecution of drug dealers.  In many drug cases, this would allow for a defendant to be charged with a higher level of offense than is permitted under current law.  Under our legislation, the crime of heroin distribution would be re-graded to make the weights comparable to the weights required for cocaine. Current law provides that the distribution of heroin and cocaine are punishable under the Criminal Code as if they were the same substance, despite that heroin provides more pharmacological effect from a given weight than does cocaine.  Consequently, drug dealers who distribute heroin are treated more leniently than those who distribute cocaine. 

Recently, the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office announced that there have been 82 overdose deaths in the County as of August 26 of this year, many of which were linked to heroin use.  This alarming statistic is one of many that illustrates the pressing need to address the growing heroin epidemic. Accordingly, we are respectfully requesting your full consideration of S-2781 and A-4151.  Thank you, in advance, for your attention to this important legislative request.” 

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