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What Parents Need To Know About ‘Hillbilly Heroin’


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On those rare occasions when kids in Verona do something stupid, alcohol often has a role. But two weeks ago, Verona and Cedar Grove police busted three men for pushing something in town that could have been much more serious. The three were arrested for selling oxycodone, a prescription painkiller that has been called, ironically enough, “Hillbilly heroin” for its prevalence in rural America.

Oxycodone is not, rest assured, rampant in Verona. But the Verona Police Department’s narcotics team has executed six search warrants and made six arrests in oxycodone cases. Oxycodone’s cachet as a “party” drug has made it a rising factor in emergency room admittances among the college-age crowd. It also too often is a stepping stone to more serious drugs, such as heroin. Like it or not, we parents have to take time to understand what oxycodone is and what it can do to our kids.

Oxycodone is derived from opium–serious medicine for serious pain–and it is available under several brand names, including OxyContin. Normally, it is a timed-release medicine. But almost as soon as the drug came on the market, people figured out that if the tablets were crushed and ingested, they gave a rush similar to heroin.

According to Det. Sgt. Michael Ruglio, who oversees the narcotics team, the oxycodone pills that the three arrested men were selling retailed for about $50 each. A bag of heroin goes for about $7, but popping a pill carries less stigma than taking a street drug. When an oxycodone habit gets too expensive, though, heroin can be the next step. Mixing oxycodone with alcohol can also be deadly. “At least two dozen kids in this town have ruined their lives because of addiction,” says Ruglio.

Signs of oxycodone use can include dark circles under the eyes and irritability, but given the pills’ steep cost, Ruglio says parents should be alert when possessions begin to go missing. He also advises taking a good look at your kids’ circle of friends.

Sometimes oxycodone gets into kids hands from a medicine cabinet; sometimes it comes from stolen prescription pads or unscrupulous doctors. Ruglio says that Verona’s pharmacies–Terry’s Drugs, Center Drugs and Walgreens have all called in suspicious attempts to buy oxycodone. “We have responded to the pharmacies and have made arrests,” he adds.

Ruglio credits Verona’s two narcotics officers for the work that resulted in the December 22 arrests (the VPD declined to name the officers because they often work undercover). Police named the three men arrested as Robert Ewald, 24, and his brother, Michael Ewald, 18, who are both Caldwell residents, and Dane Sansevero, 24, who lives in North Caldwell. The Ewalds were charged with distribution of a controlled dangerous substance and conspiracy to distribute a controlled dangerous substance, and will appear in court on February 4. Sansevero was charged with distribution of a controlled dangerous substance within a school zone.

Ruglio says he hopes the arrests deter dealers from trying to sell in Verona in the future. “We don’t plan on stopping our efforts,” he adds.

Photo this page by CrashTestAddict via Flickr. Home page photo by Be.Futureproof via Flickr.

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected].


  1. Thank you for this post. I had skimmed over this in the newspaper and you made me take a second look and realize it’s very important. Thanks for taking the extra step to keep us informed.

  2. Great article but please don’t be naive. If heroin is $7 a bag… it’s in your town and available to your kids. The upper middle class white kids who can afford painkillers can surely get their heroin. I would never say ‘rest assured, it’s not prevalent around here’ because it gives a false sense of security to some parents who might just want to ignore what is going on with their child.

    My nice, normal, on-his-way-to-college 18 year old nephew died from a deadly mixture of heroin and Xanax last summer. His parents were YOU. White, affluent enough, Catholic, concerned, available, and lived in an regular, upper middle class community of people. People like you, like me. Good people. Still, it happened. Great post but after what happened to my nephew I would never presume to think that this sort of thing ISN’T in your area and your kids don’t know where to get it if they want it.


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