DA: Heroin epidemic started with one person

Ray Tonkin explains how it started, and why it won't go away

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Some recent busts in PIke

Hardy a week goes by without some heroin-related arrest in Pike County. Here are some of the bigger busts from the past 18 months:
January 2014 — Ten suspected drug dealers were arrested in Pike County for dealing in Delaware Township and Dingman Township, as well as Matamoras Borough
October 2013 — Two people were charged with selling heroin to an undercover detective on three separate occasions in Dingman Township
May 2013 — Four people were arrested in Matamoras in connection with heroin sales
April 2013 — Five people were arrested for trafficking heroin in Pike and Wayne counties, with 662 bags of heroin and $5,005 in cash seized
November 2012 — Police arrested and charged two Delaware Township residents with possession with intent to deliver heroin, a felony; and tampering with evidence, possession of a controlled substance, and possession of drug paraphernalia
There have also been several major heroin busts in Orange County, especially Port Jervis and Newburgh.

By Jerry Goldberg

— District Attorney Ray Tonkin says knows when the heroin epidemic started in Pike County, and how.

In 1995, a single student at Delaware Valley High School introduced heroin that he brought up from New York City. Before then, heroin was little known in Milford and Pike. But, Tonkin said, this one person started the epidemic use of opiates. He began selling heroin to other students at the high school, who then sold the drug to other students — and heroin was “off to the races," said Tonkin.

Tonkin has a degree in criminal justice from the University of Scranton. He worked for the Sheriff’s Department and has served in the district attorney's office since his appointment in 1998, initially as an assistant district attorney, and then by accepting the appointment as first assistant in 2003. In that capacity he oversees the Pike County Detective Bureau and the Pike County Drug Task Force, and maintains a full caseload. He was elected Pike County’s first full-time District Attorney in 2008.

Tonkin said heroin now comes in from Paterson, N.J., the center of a large heroin drug cartel distribution network. According to Tonkin, 50 to 55 percent of crimes in the county are drug-related.

Drug-related crimes range from home burglaries to retail thefts at many of the larger retail stores in the area. “Often time a thief will go into one of the big box stores and purchase a larger flat screen tv then put outside in his car trunk. Then he’ll go back in to the store and take the same TV off the shelf and bring it to the “return counter” and give it back and get his cash back. Now he has a giant screen TV in his car and an equal amount of ‘return money’ in his pocket. If he’s feeling lucky he’ll try it again,” reported Tonkin.

Heroin escalates in potency
Tonkin said heroin used to be only 3 to 4 percent pure, which meant it had to be injected before users could get high. Today the drug cartels have increased its purity to as much as 90 percent, allowing it to be “snorted” — taken in through the nose with a straw, a rolled up piece of paper, or dollar bill. Soon the stigma of being an IV drug user fades, and the user then turns to “cooking” and injecting heroin, Tonkin said.

The DA’s office runs the Drug Task Force. Tonkin supervisors three assistant DA’s, three administration staffers, three Drug Task Force detectives, and a victim witness coordinator. There is always an assistant DA available, 'round the clock, to issue search warrants or assist any division of law enforcement if necessary.

More arrests for selling illegal opiates brings more people into the criminal justice system, stretching the money available for rehabilitation that might otherwise be used for more productive services for the public, he said.

Drug abuse and addiction are a major burden to society. Estimates of the total overall costs of substance abuse in the United States, including health, crime-related costs, as well as losses in productivity exceed $181 billion for illicit drugs, $168 billion for tobacco, and $185 billion for alcohol.

“We need a community banding together so that drug sellers know this will not be permitted," Tonkin said. "Although drug law violators need to be arrested and prosecuted we need to provide more support and help to addicts.”

If part-time or one-time users can be kept from addiction, the sellers won’t have any customers, he said.

To seek help with drugs, call Catholic Social Services at 570-296-1054, Drug and Alcohol Help at 570-296-7255, or the department of mental health at 570-296-6484.

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