A 24-year-old Ocean County man who died of a heroin overdose Tuesday became that county’s 53rd victim of drugs this year, matching last year’s total and putting the county on pace to more than double it.
Last month, eight people died of drug overdoses in the county. In an eight-day span in April, nine people died of heroin overdoses, including a 17-year-old Barnegat Township boy, said Al Della Fave, Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office spokesman.
“Just five months into 2013, we are matching last year’s number for overdose deaths. This brings into sharp focus my grave concern regarding the drug crisis,” Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato said.
The numbers can obscure the faces of those who’ve died, but families have to live with the results.
Jody Janson, of Stafford Township, said in an interview that her 26-year-old son, Steven, was very energetic. If he believed in something, he pursued it full force, she said.
“He didn’t understand how people couldn’t help other people and take the time to help them. There was one time he pulled over in the middle of the road to help someone get their sunglasses off of the roof of their car,” Janson said.
But help came too late for Steven.
On April 18 in Barnegat, Steven was found dead inside his car with baggies used to package heroin with the word BOOM stamped on them.
During an investigation after Steven’s body was discovered, police said, they learned he and Kenneth Ebinger, 27, of Barnegat, had purchased heroin in Atlantic City from a man just days before.
Police later identified that man as 22-year-old Rasan S. McGee. McGee was arrested two days after Steven’s death by Task Force members and Atlantic City's Vice Unit on drug-distribution charges.
“When Steven died, I kept hearing there were other people dying, and three people passed away right around us,” Janson said. “I didn’t know there were so many people who were dying. There was one from Barnegat, and then another one in Stafford. They are dying everywhere.”
Since Janson’s death, Coronato has rolled out enforcement and education plans to combat what he calls a heroin crisis plaguing Ocean County. Task forces were set up in the northern and southern parts of the county with detectives from the Prosecutor’s Office, while Coronato plans to bring drug education to the county’s schools this fall.
The Ocean County prosecutor called on legislators last month to stiffen penalties for heroin possession and distribution last month.
Legislation was introduced in May by state Sen. Christopher J. Connors, Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf and Assemblywoman DiAnne C. Gove, all R-Ocean, Burlington, Atlantic that would permit drug-dealing offenses to be graded by dosage units, as opposed to the weight of the controlled dangerous substances, including heroin.
Coronato said aggressive enforcement, education and penalties are critical to stemming the number of deaths.
‘Doesn’t make any sense’
Steven Janson was a commercial fisherman who worked on his family’s boat with his father, Carl, and another mate. He worked hard, and he loved go-kart racing, his mother said.
“He wanted to live. He and his dad had so many plans. He had so much to live for,” she said.
The first time his mother noticed he was under the influence of drugs, she sat him down to talk to him about it, and he stopped late last year, she said. At the time, he seemed as if he was free of it, she said.
Steven just wasn’t the kind of kid who would use heroin, and he didn’t show the signs of someone who had an addiction, she said.
He had been on pain medication after undergoing dental work. Now, his family believes that by using heroin, he was trying to get that same feeling again.
“With all that has happened, it just doesn’t make any sense, because it’s not my son. When we thought my son was on it, it wasn’t my son. It wasn’t him. This heroin is evil and demonistic as far as I’m concerned,” Jody Janson said.
An unwanted first
Caitlin Finch, 30, of Tuckerton, was the first heroin overdose death for 2013 in Ocean County. She died at her home on New Year’s Day.
Born in Vineland and raised in Millville, Finch lived in Tuckerton for the last three years, said her mother, Linda, who doesn’t know when or how she started using heroin.
Caitlin Finch told them different things, but it never was clear just how the addiction began.
The blond, blue-eyed 2000 graduate of Millville Senior High School was an animal lover. Her favorite color was blue. She loved to dance, her mother said.
There was the good Caitlin, and then there was the Caitlin on drugs.
“I knew Caitlin, and then I didn’t know Caitlin. I knew her when she was clean and didn’t know her when she wasn’t clean,” Linda Finch said of her daughter, a former art student.
“When she was clean, she was a nice person. When she wasn’t clean, I knew immediately. She would hide from me. She didn’t want to talk to me. She didn’t want to see me,” Linda Finch said.
Caitlin Finch’s sister, Stefanie O’Rourke, of Annapolis, Md., said her sister wanted help late last year and told their parents she wanted to go to rehab.
“The last time I talked to my sister was at Thanksgiving, and she was in rehab and she called my phone and our family was here in Annapolis. I asked if I could come and see her at rehab, and she said I wasn’t allowed to visit,” O’Rourke said.
O’Rourke, 47, said her sister rarely opened up to her. She said she believes Caitlin Finch was in so much pain because of the addiction.
“It’s always bothered me thinking how did this happen. There’s nothing in my family that would have made this happen. Why did she go that way and I go a different way? I wish she would have let me in and let me help her. I think she was just so ashamed of what she was doing and just wouldn’t let me help,” O’Rourke said.
A week before her death, Caitlin Finch tested clean, her mother said. But one month after being released from rehab, Caitlin Finch died Jan. 1.
“She really tried. She tried to straighten out her life. She loved her two nieces and her nephew,” Linda Finch said.
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