How Morris County puts a bull’s-eye on New Jersey’s drug epidemic

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

John Spielman of Kinnelon found out the hard way that while there’s great compassion for treating drug addiction as a disease, there’s still a bull’s-eye on drug dealers in Morris County.

In March, a police investigation led to Spielman’s 79 marijuana plants, weapons and cash — and his guilty plea and a six-year prison sentence.

“We also prosecute vigorously for-profit drug dealers,” said Morris County Prosecutor Frederic Knapp.

Knapp says law enforcement still has a responsibility of holding those in the drug trade accountable. In some cases, that means dealers he can link directly to deadly overdoses.

Two years ago, Morris County launched its Narcan 2.0 program. It offers recovery coaches through treatment for those on the brink of death but revived with naloxone. Knapp says 60 percent of those offered help accept it.

Knapp also hopes education equals awareness and prevention. He says his office has an exhaustive, high-in-demand outreach approach to educate the public, with up-to-the-minute statistics on deaths, arrests, and the prevalence and accessibility of heroin and more.

“Now, you can order up the drugs on your cellphone. You can get a delivery like you’re buying a pizza. It’s that bad,” Knapp said.

It’s common at public forums to hear someone say everyone in the audience has, or has had, or knows of someone battling addiction. Knapp is no exception.

“A young man, three or four blocks away from me, tried to burglarize my house and other houses in the neighborhood,” he said.

Knapp and his team blame fentanyl for the mounting tragedies.

“Nationally, we have seen the life expectancy decrease recently, and so much of that is because we’re losing people that would have lived until 80 years old at 28 years old. They’re dying in the bedroom that they grew up in because heroin and because of fentanyl,” said Brad Seabury, chief assistant prosecutor for the special operations division at the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office.

“Hopefully we’re doing the right thing, but seeing these numbers go up despite our efforts is really horrific. But it doesn’t dissuade us. In fact, it convinces us to work harder,” Knapp said.

Harder because science says it’s a disease. Harder because law enforcers, such as Seabury, wonder how else would anyone would explain these statistics.

“It’s concerning when you can have somebody who has lost a loved one and who would be using with that loved one — you see couples sometimes that use together — and they’ll still go to that same dealer for the dosage that killed their loved one. That is, I think, is an example of how this is a disease. It shows you how the brain has transformed by these powerful chemicals,” Seabury said.