So far in “Operation Snow Bank,” New Jersey state police have arrested 36 people. The eight-month operation followed the activities of three rival drug rings, and five of the arrestees are allegedly part of the gang MS-13. In addition to the arrests, the operation yielded a seizure of marijuana, two ounces of heroin, 1.5 kilos of cocaine, and $35,000+ in cash. More than 12 different agencies worked together on Operation Snow Bank, pooling their efforts to bring down these three cocaine trafficking organizations.
Attorney General Christopher Porrino called the investigation a “multipronged attack” and said: “By collaborating across all levels of law enforcement, we tripled our impact in stemming the supply of these corrosive drugs and the violence that accompanies these rivalries.”
An Ongoing Threat
In New Jersey especially, there are ongoing reports of large investigations like Operation Snow Bank that result in major seizures of cash and drugs, and arrests numbering in the double digits. northeast is nonstop, and law enforcement agencies are working around the clock to try to make a dent, taking down drug traffickers and dealers who would continue to put profits above people.
Despite the continuing threat of arrest and ongoing investigations, cases of overdose and addiction continue to stack up in New Jersey. Though it is important to continue to pull product off the streets, it is not through litigation alone that we will be able to get the drug epidemic under control. Rather, just as Operation Snow Bank was a multipronged attack, our community approach to the problem of drug addiction should be multipronged as well.
It is noteworthy that this investigation centered around large amounts of cocaine. Opioid use and abuse are often in the headlines, especially in New Jersey where rates of opiate overdose death are among the highest in the country and continuing to climb every year. There was a 214 percent increase in drug overdose deaths in New Jersey between 2009 and 2015, and most of those deaths were caused by use of heroin and/or fentanyl, especially heroin that is laced with fentanyl – a drug that is 50 times more potent than heroin.
But fentanyl is not just showing up in heroin doses; it is increasingly found in other street drugs as well, cocaine among them. The fact is that no street drug is safe from contamination from fentanyl. Even law enforcement is taking extra precautions on the street when handling any substance that could potentially contain the drug since exposure to even the smallest amount can have devastating consequences.
A Multipronged Response
New Jersey is certainly strong on the law enforcement side of things when it comes to managing drug sales and trafficking, but there are a number of other areas where headway has been made in recent years as efforts have become more finely tuned. For example:
- More first responders carry naloxone, an opiate overdose reversal drug, with them on all calls just in case they are first on the scene of an overdose.
- Naloxone is now easier to get for friends and family who want to be able to respond immediately if a loved one overdoses in their presence.
- Increased awareness campaigns in the form of public service announcements and information in schools have helped to let people know that no use of street drugs is “innocent” or “just recreational.” Any use, in fact, can be deadlyand lead to addiction or overdose.
- Increased access to treatment has long been a focus in the state since it has become clear that New Jersey has too many people in need of help and too few programs available. Long waiting lists can be deadly to those who continue using as they wait for a bed to become available. The crisis a family faces deepens when they can guide their loved one in addiction to treatment only to find that there are barriers of finance, insurance, and availability that stop them from getting help. This particular fight is still being waged with little assistance from the federal government. Depending on what changes are to come with healthcare coverage, it may not get any easier.
What Do You Think?
What are the major challenges facing New Jersey today in terms of drug use and abuse? Is enough being done to help people who need treatment now? Is the right message getting out to people who are at risk for the development of addiction?