Last month, a 24-year-old man from Little Egg Harbor Township overdosed on heroin in a vehicle on the side of a road in Galloway Township.
Just two days later, in a separate incident, two Galloway residents were arrested in Little Egg Harbor Township after police found they were in possession of heroin, cocaine, methadone, hypodermic syringes and drug paraphernalia during a routine traffic stop.
Police in these two semi-rural, suburban municipalities are accustomed to dealing with drug problems, but they said that township borders have begun to play a role in heroin sales. Little Egg Police Chief Richard Buzby said he’s noticed that residents of his Ocean County town are using Galloway Township as a less risky area to buy drugs.
“They’re riding the bus south to Galloway to pick up their supplies. They eliminate the risk to themselves in terms of losing their vehicles and getting them impounded, so they walk or bicycle to the bus stop,” Buzby said. “This avoids being stopped in the southern towns and on the parkway by State Police.”
Galloway Township has become a popular place for heroin users to buy because there is an abundance of state highways and access to public transportation, said Galloway Township police Detective Sgt. Donna Higbee.
Dealers are not selling drugs on street corners and in public, Higbee said. The buying and selling is more concealed from the public and is taking place in cars, public restrooms or homes.
“They’re coming down here to buy their heroin, and they’re taking it back up there. There are a lot more law enforcement agencies up there in a smaller area, which means a bigger chance of getting caught, and people know that,” Higbee said of Little Egg Harbor drug buyers.
Recent overdose deaths of Ocean County residents — nine in eight days — led Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato last week to launch a county task force devoted to curbing the county’s growing heroin problem. Atlantic County authorities will work with detectives from Ocean County, acting Atlantic County Prosecutor Jim McClain said last week.
This joint effort comes after Steven Janson, 26, of Stafford Township was found dead in his car on April 18 along with baggies used to package heroin stamped with the word “BOOM.” During the investigation, police said they learned that days before Janson's death, he and 27-year-old Kenneth Ebinger, of Barnegat Township, had allegedly purchased heroin from a man in Atlantic City, who police later identified as Rasan S. McGee, 22. McGee was arrested just after midnight on April 20 on drug charges.
“The question is really about access with this drug,” Coronato said. “People here in Ocean County are going south usually. If you're short and need a bundle of heroin, you're going to go down to Atlantic City and get a bundle. If you need a brick to last you a little bit longer you're going to go north because it's cheaper.”
Galloway Township Mayor Don Purdy said he has heard for several years that Little Egg Harbor Township residents have been coming south to the township to purchase heroin, but that it still surprises him that “a small shore town” like Little Egg Harbor has those kind of problems with drugs.
Galloway Township police exercise a sense of humanity, and regardless of whether a user is from Little Egg or is a local, Purdy said, officers here don't treat them like just another heroin addict. The police also want them to get help, he said.
In 2009 and 2010, there were 112 admissions to treatment and recovery centers from Little Egg Harbor Township for heroin and opiate abuse, and that number increased in 2011, when there were 130 admissions, said Rebecca Alfaro, director of prevention and training for the state task force.
In 2009, there were 105 admissions for heroin and opiate use in Galloway Township. In 2010, that increased to 135 admissions and then again in 2011 to 143, Alfaro said.
Both Buzby and Higbee see a disturbing connection in the cases they handle: Young adults charged with heroin possession often started by taking prescription pills — readily available, but expensive.
They then turn to heroin, which has continued to drop in price over the last three to five years and is at about $10 for each small bag.
The heroin is being produced and coming from countries, including Mexico and Afghanistan, and locally most of the supply is coming out of Camden and Atlantic City, she said.
Both departments have seen cutbacks in recent years. In 2009, Galloway laid off two police officers, and in 2010, Little Egg Harbor Township laid off nine officers. Budget shortfalls have led to delays in replacing retired officers as well.
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