In face of increasing heroin ODs, N.J. considers doubling penalties

 Heroin from closed criminal cases, marked with a dealer's stamp. (Tracy Samuelson/NewsWorks Photo, file)

Heroin from closed criminal cases, marked with a dealer's stamp. (Tracy Samuelson/NewsWorks Photo, file)

Heroin overdoses have increased dramatically in New Jersey in the last few years. In efforts to deal with the problem, an Assembly committee has advanced legislation that would double the penalties for distributing the drug.

Assemblywoman Marlene Caride, one of the sponsors of the legislation, said it could deter dealers.

“It’s easy money for them. If it’s a situation where you now are talking about several years in jail, you might think twice before you go down to the corner and start dealing,” said Caride, D-Bergen.

Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll voted against the bill.

“We have a tendency in this body, every time a high-profile question comes up, to immediately move to increase penalties on whatever that particular crime was to create the appearance that we’re actually doing something,” said Carroll, R-Morris.

The key is doing more to reduce the demand for Heroin, Carroll said.

Advocates say more education and drug treatment programs are needed.

And Roseanne Scotti, the state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said the measure under consideration will not put high-level dealers out of business.

“What’s going to happen is they’re going to arrest some poor kid on a corner who’s desperate and maybe selling a few bags or heroin, give him 20 years in jail at a cost of $2 million to taxpayers,” she said. “And a half hour later, someone else will take his place.”

Lt. David Borzotta, who heads the narcotics task force in the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, has faith in the merit of the measure as a deterrent.

“In the heroin world, a statute like this will resonate through the dealer world,” he said.

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