What would happen if you took everyone who is addicted to heroin and opioids in New Jersey and sent them to one place? It would be the state’s fourth largest city, boasting a population of at least 128,000, reports NJ Advance Media. Its residents are diverse enough that the town would be self-sufficient, with lawyers, politicians, construction workers, teachers and scientists walking the streets. Social network analysis suggests New Jersey residents likely will know several people in the “city,” whether they toil at a desk behind you or sleep in a bed down the hall. This city exists all across New Jersey, where heroin and opioid addiction have exploded in the past 10 years, killing more than 5,000 people and enslaving hundreds of thousands more.
Over the past year, NJ Advance Media has collected hundreds of stories from people touched by this epidemic, includidng addicts, recovering users, mothers, fathers, friends and family, to detail the struggle with addiction. Last year, the news organization put out a blind call to readership: Tell us your heroin story. Journalists got more than 500 responses from 215 towns in New Jersey. The men and women spanned ages 17 to 79. Some responses ran more than 2,000 words. A year has taken reporters into suburban homes and city apartments, and from needle exchanges and rehabilitation centers to jails and cemeteries. A town populated by these individuals would be the fastest growing municipality in New Jersey.