In Monmouth County, 77 people have died this year from a heroin overdose, and last month a Union Beach man was nearly counted among that number.
Police saved that unidentified 28-year-old man’s life with a drug called Narcan, which counteracts the effects of overdoses.
“He was my son,” said Ellen, a woman who spoke at a community meeting in Memorial School on Tuesday evening about the heroin epidemic. She did not provide her last name.
“His skin was gray. His lips were blue. I felt his pulse slow down,” Ellen said. “My only son was dying.”
Ellen was just one of the speakers at the community meeting at Memorial School.
Capt. Barry DuBrosky of the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s office, his detectives, and others were called to Union Beach for the second time this year to give a presentation about the extent of the heroin epidemic in Monmouth County.
To place the 77 heroin overdose deaths in perspective, 43 people have been killed in Monmouth County traffic accidents this year, and five people have been murdered.
In Union Beach, police made 13 arrests in September due to drug related crimes. On Sept. 2, they made seven of those arrests — all related to heroin. And police in Monmouth and Middlesex counties broke-up a drug distribution network operating out of Cliffwood last month too.
“This is frustrating because we’re not making any headway,” Dubrosky told a group of 65 people about 10 of which were children. “This epidemic is starting to outpace our communities.”
The disease of addiction is something Ellen has lived with for 10 years as she has watched her son succumb to his illness and rotate in and out of jail.
“The only time I can sleep in when he’s in jail,” she said.
She’s the one who sent him to jail the first time. Four or five years into his addiction he broke into her home and stole what jewelry he hadn’t yet pilfered to pay for his habit.
Ellen’s experience is not unique, the detectives said.
Addicts run through their money. They start stealing from their family and friends.
“People ask us why don’t we go after criminals — the murderers, the people who commit sexual assault,” DuBrosky said. “We’ve come to realize that they all merge into one another.”
The missing items here and there is what first made Ellen realize that there was something wrong with her son. Piece by piece items like gold rings and diamond earrings would go missing.
Before his overdose Ellen’s son would come back home at times. He would find ways to get high even though Ellen said she would search him and tear his room apart. He would leave needles on the dining room table or the front yard.
“They just don’t care,” she said.
She described her sons withdrawl symptoms to the assembled children in the room. She explained that it was like the worst flu they have every had.
“Don’t spend your life sick,” she pleaded.