• Lynda Cohen

‘Stop the Heroin’ rally gets attention of judge, those in need

Updated: May 7

Kenneth Martinez was going to court Monday when he saw the “Stop the Heroin” rally and shared the story of his ongoing battle.

Kenneth Martinez came to Atlantic County Superior Court for a hearing on a shoplifting charge. He ended up with a group focused on helping him find recovery. Martinez, 28,  has been using heroin for five years. He wants to stop, he says. But the drug’s pull is too strong. He’s been waiting five months to get into a rehab, he told a group of strangers Monday morning, as they rallied outside the courthouse hoping to garner the prosecutor’s attention on the growing drug epidemic. Eight people have died from overdoses in the last week, according to Stop the Heroin, a group started by Egg Harbor Township couple Tammy and Bill Schmincke. Their son Steve died of a heroin overdose the day before Easter. Now, they work to raise awareness and money to help those just out of rehab get into sober living facilities. So far, they have put 32 people into sober living. But they know more is needed. So does Judge Mark Sandson, who took over the county’s drug court three months ago. He invited the ralliers into his courtroom on Monday, allowing them to ask questions and trying to explain drug court to them. He was personally touched by the epidemic, he said. “I have to divorce myself from it (on the bench), but my daughter died of a heroin overdose,” he told the group. “The nature of the disease is that not everybody does recover,” Sandson said. One of those eight deaths was a drug court participant who had a clean urine last Tuesday. Just a couple of hours later, he overdosed in a McDonald’s bathroom. Christopher Cox died two days later, surrounded by his family, said his brother, Joe, who told the judge about his own recovery and said his brother was unable to get into the same program that helped him because it is not government-funded. “We are saving people’s lives,” Sandson said of drug court, although he knows it’s just a part. Lou Capone said it saved him. A cocaine addict for “20-some years,” the 38-year-old credits drug court for his 101 days clean. There is nothing like this in his native New York, he told the gathering. “I’ve seen him on ventilators, everything,” his father, Angelo, said outside the courtroom. Is he convinced this time his son is saved? “I can sleep at night,” Angelo Capone replied. Acting Atlantic County Prosecutor Diane Ruberton didn’t see the group, but released a statement to the media. “The Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office is committed to reducing the danger to our communities caused by the heroin epidemic, and will continue the ongoing work of prevention on the supply side of the equation through investigation, arrest and prosecution of suppliers in concert with other local, state and federal law enforcement agencies,” she wrote. “And we will continue to work with public, private and volunteer organizations to support health, treatment and intervention initiatives, recognizing that the potential solution to reducing these tragic deaths requires a comprehensive approach.” The statement was not enough for those gathered. Stop the Heroin’s leaders promised they would keep coming back. People like Martinez are glad they will. He was heading into court for a shoplifting charge, after he stole $500 in Polo shirts from Boscov’s to give to his drug dealer in exchange for heroin. When asked when he last used, he took a reporter’s notepad and wrote: “20 mins ago.” How much? “If you knew what I take, you would be surprised I’m alive,” he said. Before he walked up the stairs Judge Damon Tyner’s courtroom, he turned and called: “Please find a way to get me some help. Please.”

#drugepidemic #drugs #heroin #opiates

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