By Donald Wittkowski
Heroin deaths are declining in Cape May County, in large part because police departments now use an antidote to save addicts from overdoses, Prosecutor Robert Taylor told a drug forum Thursday in Sea Isle City.
Taylor stressed that heroin addiction remains a serious concern in the county, despite efforts by law enforcement to round up drug dealers in major sting operations. On Tuesday, authorities announced the arrest of a Lower Township woman who was attempting to board the Cape May-Lewes Ferry while allegedly carrying 250 bags of heroin.
“Do we have a problem in Cape May County with heroin? Yes, we do,” Taylor told an audience of about 80 senior citizens in the former Sea Isle City Public School.
The school’s gymnasium was the setting for two community drug forums titled “Sea Isle City Fights Heroin … What You Need to Know.” The first presentation was for grandparents and senior citizens, while the second included parents and younger adults.
Underscoring the perils of the heroin crisis, the forums were designed to help parents and grandparents recognize high-risk behavior in children and teenagers and take steps to fight addiction.
During the session for grandparents, speakers repeatedly told them that they should safeguard their prescription medications to prevent them from being stolen by their grandchildren or other people.
“You don’t want to be a supplier of drugs to your kids or grandkids,” warned John Kriger, a nationally known speaker on health issues and a licensed alcohol and drug counselor.
Sea Isle Police Capt. Tom McQuillen noted that heroin addiction cuts across all demographic groups and is “an equal opportunity killer.”
“The sad and ugly truth about heroin is that it knows no boundaries,” McQuillen said.
Sea Isle’s police officers now carry the heroin antidote Narcan to prevent overdose victims from dying. McQuillen said Sea Isle’s officers saved three overdose victims in 2015 and another three so far this year using Narcan.
Taylor, who as prosecutor is Cape May County’s lead law enforcement official, said Narcan’s use by other police departments in the county helped to save 60 overdose victims in 2015 and another 61 through the first nine months this year.
Heroin deaths in Cape May County have been dramatically reduced so far in 2016, from 20 in 2015 to nine this year, Taylor said. He also noted that the number of heroin overdoses in the county declined 9 percent in 2015 and has dropped 12.5 percent so far in 2016.
Cape May County Freeholders Gerald Thornton and Marie Hayes said the county has mounted an aggressive campaign to combat drug addiction and trafficking. They said law enforcement needs the community’s help to continue the war on drugs.
“When we talk about drugs in Cape May County, it’s here,” Thornton said. “It’s heroin.”
Hayes, who was a captain with the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office and served in law enforcement for 29 years before retiring in 2009, said many crimes throughout the county are drug-related. They include burglaries by addicts who are looking to steal money to buy drugs, she said.
Normally, an upscale beachfront town such as Sea Isle City isn’t associated with heroin addiction. But senior citizens who attended Thursday’s drug forum seemed well aware that the nation’s heroin crisis has spread to Sea Isle and other parts of Cape May County.
“It’s here. We wouldn’t be doing all of this if we weren’t concerned about the youngsters and everything else that’s out there,” said Nancy Birkmeyer, 84, a 24-year Sea Isle resident who is married to school board member John Birkmeyer, also 84.
Roy Cook, 76, a retired structural engineer, and his 71-year-old wife, Martie, have owned a home in Sea Isle for the past three years and before that were renters for 14 years. They said they help to keep an eye on things in their neighborhood at 61st Street, knowing that the drug problem could be lurking nearby.
“Any problem at all with heroin is a serious problem,” Roy Cook said.