Police keep eyes on Route 15 drug trafficking

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:55

    SPARTA---Flashing red lights. Police vehicles. A car stopped on the shoulder of the road. They are roadside markers during the late evening and early morning hours along Route 15 in Sparta where illegal drugs are trafficked out of the inner cities to points west and beyond. In the past year, township police have made more than 500 drug-related arrests, many of which involved young adults driving along the county roadway. In a poll released last week by the Department of Human Services, one in five young adults in New Jersey admitted to having a problem with drugs, alcohol or both, and five percent n more than twice the national average - reported using heroin. Sparta police chief Ernie Reigstad said the department makes a conscious effort to patrol Route 15 throughout the day and evening to deter the movement of drugs into town. "We don't see blatant drug deals on the street here," he said. "But I don't think there's a township in New Jersey that doesn't have a drug problem. If there are any drugs, it's a problem." Reigstad said the biggest challenges facing suburban police forces are drugs and gangs. He said most of the drug-related arrests in Sparta involve adults in their ‘20s. "They go hand-in-hand," said Reigstad. "The gangs are selling the drugs and looking for new members at the same time." Reigstad acknowledged that drug use within the township is on the upswing and that heroin is the state's prime target for enforcement. The poll reported five percent of those 18-25 years old having used heroin at least once, compared with two percent nationally. Reigstad said several hundred heroin-related arrests were made in Sparta last year. "Everywhere you go, there's a problem with drugs," he said. "We're doing better than a lot of places, but I wouldn't put a stamp that everything is fine. That's not the attitude to take. We want to be proactive and make the arrests." According to the 2003 New Jersey Household Survey on Drug Use and Health, overall illicit drug use was lower in New Jersey than nationally among all age groups, yet access to substance abuse treatment programs in the state remained elusive for people of all ages. Older adults had lower rates of dependency, with just under 10 percent of those above age 26 admitting they had a drinking or drug problem, but only nine percent of those were in treatment programs compared to 27 percent nationally. Reigstad said the township has four officers state-certified in recognizing when an individual is under the influence. He said the township works collaboratively with other departments throughout Sussex County and detectives and recently played a role leading to the seizure of two methamphetamine laboratories in surrounding towns. The Eagleton Institute of Politics polled 14,660 New Jersey residents by telephone between September 2002 and February 2003 and compared the results with findings from the 2002 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.