New Jersey’s Department of Health and Human Services released a study this fall that found treatment-program admissions for heroin and other opiate users under age 25 in Cape May County have increased 154 percent since 2006.
Statewide, the figure is up 99 percent over the same time period.
In Atlantic, Cumberland and Ocean counties, the numbers increased 109 percent, 38 percent and 161 percent, respectively.
Treating people for addiction and substance abuse is a constant battle for Dr. James Manlandrocq, a Woodbine doctor who started treating the addicted in 1981.
“We’re shoveling sand against the tide. We treat one person, and two more come out,” Manlandro said.
And the tide doesn’t stop.
Heroin was once taboo among addicts because it required the use of needles and because of fears about the spread of diseases such as AIDS through needle-sharing, but Cape May County Chief of Detectives Ken Super said it has become the most prevalent drug in the county.
In Cape May County, $20 buys a small baggie, just .003 grams of heroin, enough to produce the high users seek, he said.
“It’s a different kind of high. A cocaine high … (cocaine is) an accelerant, you’re more jazzed up. Heroin has the opposite effect,” Super said.
Heroin users experience a euphoria that occurs at different rates, depending on whether the drug is injected, smoked or snorted. After the rush, users feel drowsy.
Manlandro said users often start by taking prescription drugs and then turn to heroin.
“I started (treating substance abuse) in 1981, and it’s now worse than I ever imagined,” he said.
At his practice, Manlandro and two other doctors treat narcotics abuse with Suboxone, a medication that suppresses withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Each doctor can treat as many as 100 patients under federal statutes that regulate the drug. Each doctor is at capacity.
“There’s many we can’t take because of the 100-patient limit,” Manlandro said.
Cape Assist, a social services agency based in Wildwood, opened its doors 30 years ago on a mission to prevent drug abuse and many of the other social ills that damage families.
This year, as it marked the milestone, the agency recognized that prevention was no longer enough.
“The area is growing in its need for treatment. There’s a lot of heroin and prescription drug abuse,” said Katie Faldetta, associate director of Cape Assist, who has been with the agency for 10 years. “It’s really scary that the trend of heroin use and addiction has grown over the last five years.”
Manlandro said he sees drug use common particularly among those 19 to 24, but “we’re seeing a lot of patients from 16 on.”
“Cape May County has always been a hotbed for addiction,” said Manlandro, who said he encounters daily people addicted to Oxycodone and has watched the rate of alchoholism double.
The area’s seasonal economy as well as increases in the number of people with mental health issues and the number of single-parent households all play a part, Manlandro said.
Super said heroin and prescription drugs are the most common ones abused in Cape May County. The illicit drugs make their way there via cities such as New York, Philadelphia and Camden.
“With the prevalence of these drugs in the street, the best way to put it is we’re trying to identify the persons who are a little higher on the distribution level and go after them,” Super said.
The county’s Gangs, Guns and Narcotics Task Force spends much of its time trying to halt the distribution of drugs, but Super said the abuse of prescription drugs and the use of heroin have grown.
“For every dealer we take out, there’s a hundred more lined up,” Super said. “It’s a revolving door.”
But, like Manlandro, the task force continues to battle the tide.
“Are we winning? We’re trying, and we haven’t given up,” Super said. “We take a couple steps forward and maybe one or two back.”
Super said drug use and drug abuse are most often seen in Middle and Lower townships and in Wildwood.
While law enforcement works on its end to react to the problem, Manlandro said, “Treatment is the answer to the problem. Jail doesn’t fix anybody.”
“Most of the time people with addiction problems have poor self-esteem. They’re looking for alcohol and drugs to do something for them that they can’t do for themselves,” Manlandro said.
But there are successes.
Manlandro recalled a man who was an alcoholic and drug addict and who had served time in state and federal prisons.
He entered treatment and within the first year received new criminal charges, but as time went on he started a job and left the drugs behind.
“He stayed sober and drug-free. That’s the kind of success we’ve seen,” he said, but, “the recovery rate is probably 60 percent, so we have a lot of failures, too.”
County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Jim Herlihy handled drug court cases for about eight years.
The program, an alternative to prison, was designed to provide a way to help users rid themselves of their addictions.
Drug use in the county has been on the rise, he said.
“I remember the very first crack cocaine case coming down the road in the early 1990s,” he said.
Today, he said, heroin and prescription drugs such as Oxycontin are the most popular.
Herlihy blamed economic factors for some of the problem, noting the county’s high seasonal unemployment — 13.1 percent in October.
“One of the goals of drug court is to get them back working, especially full time,” he said, adding that the court is most effective for those who genuinely want to change.
“If you’re ready for it, it works,” he said.
Herlihy said drug court was his favorite job in the Prosecutor’s Office.
“It was a chance for them to change their lives,” he said.
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