Drug bust near school: why heroin is a community problem

On the morning of Nov. 24, just blocks from Community Park Elementary School, Princeton police made their way to a John Street residence to execute a search warrant. While other Princetonians dropped their kids at school, drove to work or made Thanksgiving preparations, a 19 year-old girl from Lawrenceville and 22-year-old Princeton male had their lives turned upside down.

The Princeton male, living on the 200 block of John Street, was charged with possession of heroin with intent to distribute, possession of marijuana under 50 grams with intent to distribute, possession of cocaine, possession of prescription legend drugs and possession of an imitation firearm. All of these charges were exaggerated by his being within 1,000 feet of school property and within 500 feet of a public park and public housing.

The teenage girl was charged with possession of heroin and possession of drug paraphernalia.

“Heroin use is certainly on the rise statewide, nationally and, sadly, more prevalent in Princeton than it has been in the past,” Police Chief Nick Sutter said after the arrest. “We’re paying attention to people who are distributing. Heroin use and drug addiction are a community concern.”

These two local community members are confined to the Mercer County Correctional Facility. The Princeton man had his bail set at $225,000. The girl’s was set at $10,000 with a 10 percent posting option.

“We take the sale of narcotics, especially by schools, seriously and are extremely proactive in these situations,” Sutter said.

According to the Princeton Police Department’s reports, the number of arrests for possession of a controlled dangerous substance has nearly doubled since last year.

Sutter shared the “back story” as to why he thinks so many possession charges occurred without a significant rise in distribution charges:

”You’re dealing with the amounts when it comes to ‘intent to distribute,’ which boils down to how much you have and how it’s packaged. Let’s say you had 30 grams of marijuana in a wooden box in your car – obviously personal use – as opposed to 30 grams packaged up in 30 separate bags. I would assume a lot of the possession chargers were dealers who had it packaged in a way that made it hard to prove it was for distribution.”

Addressing heroin use, addiction and overdoses is addressed in the police department’s recently developed strategic plan.

“This came up a lot in the focus groups that worked to create the plan,” Sutter said.

The focus groups consisted of Princeton residents, police officers, business owners, clergy, council members, administrators, members of the municipality, Corner House, local civic groups, community outreach groups, leaders from the Princeton schools, as well as individuals from the medical community and Princeton University. Sutter explained how the groups identified and assessed various themes and concerns. Of these, the dangers of drug-related issues stood out.

“You’re not going to arrest your way out of that problem,” Sutter said, adding that every one of his officers is equipped with Narcan in his or her car. Narcan or Naloxone, according to the National Library of Medicine, is a prescription drug that helps partially or completely reverse the effects of certain types of medicines. It is often used to aid in an opiate overdose.

“The other branch of this is prevention,” Sutter said. “Through education and general collaboration with our community and health-care providers, we will address strategies and solutions for people at risk.”

About Erica Chayes Wida

Erica Chayes Wida is a writer, mom, and complete zealot when it comes to poetry, paella and globe collections. After graduating with a degree in Anthropology from UCLA, Erica moved to Italy where the seasons and old architecture inspired her journey back to the East Coast. Since then, she and her husband have created a nest egg locally and, over time, developed a rather grand love affair with the town of Princeton. Erica is senior editor at The Princeton Sun and enjoys fulfilling her Princeton affections on a daily basis. | View all posts by Erica Chayes Wida