Atlantic County and state leaders discuss fight against fentanyl
“There is no safe street drug,” said the executive director of Partnership for a Drug-Free NJ.
The warning from Angelo Valente came as leaders and grieving mothers joined Monday to talk of the ways fentanyl has infiltrated all street drugs and the diverse tactics being implemented to fight it.
“Fentanyl is one of those mountains we keep falling down,” Atlantic County Sheriff Eric Scheffler said. “We can’t get ahead of it. It’s just coming in and coming in and coming in.”
In 2019, he said they would find 75 percent of what they were testing was fentanyl. But now, some of the drugs are pure fentanyl, which is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.
That includes being mixed in with everything from marijuana to heroin, or pressed into molds to look like prescription pills.
The pill found in Max Lenowitz’s belongings looked like a Xanax. But when it was tested, “it contained a lethal dose of fentanyl,” his mother said Monday.
Patrice Lenowitz started off July 14, 2022, with a happy call to Max for his 25th birthday.
She recalled singing to her oldest child, and telling him how proud she was of him and how much she loved him.
He was supposed to meet up with friends later in Atlantic City and have dinner in Margate. But Max Alexander Lenowitz never made it to his own celebration.
This year, legislation marked July 14 as Fentanyl Poisoning Awareness Day, honoring those lost to fentanyl.
“Make no mistake about it, today’s trafficking of fentanyl was produced with the sole intent of killing Americans. All Americans,” Patrice Lenowitz said, citing a study that found 100 China-based chemical companies touting fentanyl, fentanyl ingredients or the equipment needed to make the drugs.
An Ocean City High School senior and a 14-year-old Pennsylvania boy were found dead last August, after they ingested what appeared to be prescription green Xanax and white Oxycodone. But when the white pills were tested, they were instead a mixture of fentanyl and methamphetamine, according to the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office.
The FEND Off Fentanyl Act “would help combat the country’s fentanyl crisis by targeting opioid traffickers devastating America’s communities,” explained bill sponsor, Sen. Bob Menendez.
It would enhance current law to “penalize those facilitating the trafficking of fentanyl,” along with ensuring “that sanctions are imposed not only on the illicit drug trade, but also on the money laundering that makes it profitable.”
But the approach is multi-pronged, the sheriff explained.
He spoke of his Hope ONE initiative that has gotten about 4,900 people into treatment over 5½ years.
There are more than 10,000 doses of Narcan that have been passed out on the street or gone to first-responders to help reverse the effects of an overdose.
There is also the partnership with the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, which has reversed its predecessor’s policy of returning third-degree drug crimes back to the municipal courts.
Atlantic County Prosecutor Will Reynolds knows from his time as a municipal prosecutor in various towns that there is no offer of treatment at that level.
Instead, his office is keeping the lower drug crimes in hopes of getting those defendants into treatment or other incarceration alternatives like Recovery Court.
Tyler Onesty didn’t get that chance.
The 22-year-old Ocean City man had struggled with addiction. He had been clean, but hit a rough patch, his mother explained.
“He died in a cold hotel room in Atlantic City that they used to call the morgue,” Sally Onesty said due to the near-daily visits there to take out those who died from overdoses.
An investigation never led to who sold Tyler that deadly dose. So his mother said she shifted her focus to helping others.
It’s something she said her son was doing even in the throes of his own battle with addiction.
Texts in his cell “showed he had had several people in that phone he was trying to help get into treatment,” she said. “He was helping people until his dying day.”
The Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office investigates these drug-related deaths and uses strict liability to prosecute when they find those responsible.
“Of course, this cannot bring back those lost,” Reynolds said. “So we have partnered with law enforcement and social service agencies to bring treatment to users before it is too late through outreach, education and diversion from jail to treatment when appropriate.
“Through it all, we never deviate from our primary function as law enforcement,” he added. “Our agency believes that public health is public safety and will continue to do all we can as part of the fight against substance abuse.”