One heartbreaking statistic tells you all you need to know about the new drug scourge in New Jersey: The highest per-capita rate of treatment admissions for heroin addicts younger than 25 is in Cape May County.
Yes, sleepy Cape May County is now at the center of the state's growing use of heroin. And, throughout the state, the new heroin addict is likely to be a young suburbanite, according to a recent report by the state Department of Health and Human Services.
This new addiction is the result of many factors coming together, experts say.
The heroin on the street is more powerful than it used to be. It can be snorted, like cocaine, so that first-time users who might shy away from sticking a needle in their arms can easily get hooked.
Drug dealers have expanded their trade into the suburbs, where middle-class customers can afford to pay a small premium to have heroin delivered to their neighborhoods. Using texts and even Facebook, it has never been easier for users and dealers to find one another.
One pattern New Jersey doctors are seeing is suburban kids who first become addicted to the opiates in prescription pain killers and then find that heroin is cheaper and easier to get.
Figures from Gov. Chris Christie's Council on Drug and Alcohol Abuse show that the number of state residents ages 18 to 25 admitted to addiction treatment centers for heroin use increased more than 12 percent from 2010 to 2011.
Heroin addiction is increasing other problems in the suburbs and rural areas of the state as well. Thefts and other crimes that junkies commit to support their habits are on the rise - as are overdoses. In a one-week period this summer, there were 10 heroin overdoses in Toms River, three of them fatal.
Unfortunately, our drug policies have a long way to go to catch up with this growing threat. While many law enforcement officials agree that locking up addicts does little good, it is often the only option.
There are promising new forms of treatment, from drugs that block the brain's pleasure receptors so that opiates no longer produce a high to others that suppress painful withdrawal symptoms. But doctors are limited in the number of patients they can take. There simply aren't enough openings for all the addicts who need treatment.
A year ago, in his State of the State message, Christie called for a transformation in the way the state deals with drug users, moving toward treatment rather than incarceration for nonviolent offenders. By July, state lawmakers had approved a plan to expand the state's drug court program over five years.
That's an important start, but it doesn't go far enough. As the new rise in heroin addiction makes clear, this problem is growing. And it is growing in areas where many of us never expected it.