|TRENTON - Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman today issued a wide-ranging directive to ensure that police and prosecuting agencies throughout the state take critical steps to address the crisis of heroin and prescription painkiller abuse that is ruining and claiming the lives of countless New Jerseyans.
The directive advances a number of important initiatives and legislation launched and signed into law by Governor Chris Christie. Several sections will strengthen investigations and prosecutions targeting heroin dealers and those who profit by diverting prescription pain pills into the black market, including corrupt doctors and pharmacists. Meanwhile, other sections will help track and prevent overdoses and will bolster effective use of New Jersey’s Drug Court program so addicted individuals are treated rather than imprisoned when treatment offers a better chance of turning offenders from a life of crime.
“With hundreds of young lives being lost and destroyed each year in New Jersey as a result of heroin and prescription opiate addiction, we will spare no effort to address this crisis,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “This is a complex and challenging problem, and it demands the type of multidisciplinary approach reflected in this directive. Governor Christie has been proactive in delivering legislation and programs to confront this crisis, and it is in that framework that we are mobilizing law enforcement to attack this on all fronts.”
“New Jersey has tough drug laws that impose stiff penalties for those who deal heroin and prescription pain pills, and that hold drug dealers strictly liable for causing a fatal overdose,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “At the same time, our laws compassionately seek to save and redeem addicted individuals, granting immunity from prosecution to simple users who dial 911 during an overdose, and providing for mandatory drug treatment for certain criminal offenders through Drug Court. This directive seeks to maximize our effectiveness in being both tough and compassionate.”
The directive – delivered today to all police chiefs, county prosecutors and county sheriffs – includes six sections mandating the following programs, actions and requirements, among others:
- New statewide training and requirements to ensure that officers responding to an overdose event understand their responsibilities under the “Overdose Prevention Act,” signed into law by Governor Christie on May 2, 2013, and carry them out with oversight by the county prosecutor. The Overdose Prevention Act provides that those who, in good faith, seek medical assistance for an overdose victim will be immune from arrest and prosecution on a charge of use or simple possession of illegal drugs. The immunity also applies to the person suffering the overdose.
- Mandatory reporting each time the nasally injected opioid antidote Narcan is administered to reverse an overdose, so that critical data is gathered to analyze and respond to the opiate crisis in New Jersey. A highly successful pilot program in Ocean and Monmouth counties to equip police officers to administer Narcan was expanded statewide by Governor Christie in June.
- Development of uniform standards and training to ensure that drug overdoses are properly investigated and, where appropriate, drug dealers are charged criminally for deaths that result from drugs they distributed, under New Jersey’s strict liability for drug-induced death statute.
- New mandates to ensure police and prosecutors coordinate and share intelligence with the newly formed Prescription Fraud Investigation Strike Team (PFIST) – made up of detectives and attorneys in the Division of Criminal Justice – which will spearhead investigations and prosecutions of healthcare professionals who illicitly supply dangerous prescription opiates for profit.
- Enhanced penalties for drug traffickers who sell ultra-dangerous opiate mixtures, such as heroin and fentanyl, or who sell both heroin and prescription opiates. The enhanced penalties will be implemented through revisions to the Attorney General’s “Brimage Guidelines,” which channel prosecutorial discretion in negotiating plea deals for drug offenses that carry mandatory minimum prison terms. Those offenders will face 12 to 18 months of additional parole ineligibility for first-degree crimes, and six to nine months of additional parole ineligibility for second-degree crimes, beyond the mandatory minimums currently stipulated in the Brimage Guidelines for the various offenses under the Comprehensive Drug Reform Act.
- New requirements and new informational materials to ensure prosecutors take an active role in identifying offenders who are appropriate candidates for New Jersey’s nationally acclaimed Drug Court Program, in which judges – under an expansion signed into law by Governor Christie in 2012 – can order addicted non-violent offenders to participate in court-supervised drug treatment, whether they ask for treatment or not. Prosecutors shall request such special probation for any eligible defendant, unless the defendant would pose a danger to the community and such safety concerns cannot be adequately addressed through court-imposed conditions of probation.
The directive is attached and posted online with this release at www.njpublicsafety.com.
Acting Attorney General Hoffman commended Assistant Attorney General Ron Susswein for his work in drafting the new directive.