N.J. Drug Court may not be able to absorb heroin sweep defendants

 A detective in the Ocean County Prosecutors shows off a packet of confiscated heroin. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

A detective in the Ocean County Prosecutors shows off a packet of confiscated heroin. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

Prosecutors are hoping to get many of the nearly 300 accused heroin users arrested Tuesday in North Jersey into treatment programs instead of jail.

But Carol Venditto, the statewide Drug Court manager, said she’s not sure the treatment system in New Jersey has the capacity to accommodate all of those defendants.

“Residential treatment there are waits for, but usually we can usually get someone into an outpatient treatment setting,” she said Wednesday. “We really have to wait for the due process rights first to be considered and to see whether they are going to go though the criminal justice system or whether they’ll be deferred in some way or potentially their charges dismissed.”

While the cost of treatment depends on each person’s needs, Vebditto said, it averages about $15,000 a year. That’s far less than the cost of incarceration.

“It’s certainly possible that some individuals won’t be able to access drug treatment simply because there’s waiting lists at most drug treatment facilities,” said Roseanne Scotti, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “We know that half the adults and two-thirds of the adolescents who seek treatment in New Jersey can’t access it because of lack of capacity and lack of funding.”

Some of those arrested might not have an addiction and may not require treatment, she said. And charges against some suspects might be dismissed before a treatment decision is made.

The massive sweep, involving law enforcement agents from a dozen municipalities and four counties, netted more than 280 alleged users and 40 dealers. It followed an eight-week operation that targeted Paterson-based drug operations.

Authorities also seized approximately 1,200 grams of raw heroin — enough to sell about 60,000 bags on the street — and another 12,000 bags from users. The heroin has an estimated street value of $350,000.Authorities also seized 30 guns and more than $25,000 during the operation, which involved undercover agents and surveillance.

The federal Drug Enforcement Agency says Paterson supplies more pure heroin than anywhere else in the country.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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