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Crime North Jersey father searches for answers in his daughter’s apparent overdose death

19:30  23 february  2020
19:30  23 february  2020 Source:   northjersey.com

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PATERSON — After struggling with drug addiction, Amar Elatab seemed like she had found the right path in life, according to her father.

The 29-year-old woman, who grew up in South Paterson and graduated from Clifton High School, had been working steady for three years and was living in a nice apartment near St. Joseph’s University Medical Center, her family said. She had completed her drug court requirements and seemed by all indications to be staying clean, her father said.

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a person standing posing for the camera: Amar Elatab with her father, Said Elatab, in a photo taken about a year ago. © Courtesy of Said Elatab Amar Elatab with her father, Said Elatab, in a photo taken about a year ago.

But on Feb. 15, Said Elatab said he answered a knock at his apartment door and met a Paterson police officer who told him that his daughter had been found dead in a parked car that morning, the victim of an apparent drug overdose.

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It was a visit the father said he had feared years ago, back when his daughter would go missing for weeks at a time and he would drive through Paterson’s most dangerous neighborhoods looking for her.

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“When you start taking heroin, it’s over,” said Said Elatab. “It’s just a matter of time before you die.”

“I used to tell her, ‘Please let me die first, after I die you can do whatever you want,’” the father added. “I told her, ‘I don’t want to come to your funeral, you should be at my funeral.’”

Sometimes, families of drug overdose victims are reluctant to speak publicly about their loved ones’ addictions. But Elatab said he reached out to a reporter in an effort to shine light on the problem.

“Too many people have their head in the sand,” he said.

Community leaders and police officers say overdose deaths happen far too often in Paterson. But statistics showing exactly how many overdose deaths occur in the city are hard to come by. New Jersey's Department of Health doesn’t track drug fatalities by municipalities. Neither does the Paterson Police Department.

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Throughout all of Passaic County, 152 people died of apparent drug overdoses in 2019, a 22% reduction from the toll of 196 narcotics deaths the previous year, according to the state. Statewide, deaths dropped from 3,118 to 2,731, according to the health department.

Through the first 10 months of 2019, medical technicians working in the Paterson Fire Department administered naloxone to save heroin overdose victims in the city in more than 215 instances.

Mayor Andre Sayegh cited that statistic during a City Hall press conference last fall announcing a $150,000 grant to create new opioid response teams composed of police officers, medical technicians and social workers who would try to convince people who survived overdoses to get treatment, officials said. A separate $600,000 grant announced by Sayegh will provide Paterson with a demographic analysis of Paterson’s overdose victims.

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“Addiction doesn’t discriminate,” said Paterson Public Safety Director Jerry Speziale. “It doesn’t matter who you are, addiction has the most tenacious grip on an individual you can imagine.”

Capt. Engelbert Ribeiro, head of the Paterson Police Department’s narcotics division, said he has seen numerous people endure the brutal physical symptoms of heroin withdrawal after they were arrested.

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“They’ve broken the law, but we see them as victims,” Ribeiro said. “They are victims of their own addiction. They reach a point where they don’t have a choice anymore.”

Amar Elatab was found dead inside her own car in the parking lot where she lived on Camden Street, an old industrial building that had been converted to apartments. The neighborhood – with new housing being built next to the parking lot and across the street from it – seems to reflect the recent optimism of investors willing to develop in Paterson.

But Said Elatab pointed out that drug dealers openly operate just a few blocks away near a liquor store on Main Street. The father said authorities need to take a tougher stand against open-air drug markets in Paterson.

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“You can go anywhere in this city and just buy it,” he said.

The police report on her death said Elatab was already dead when an officer was called to the scene shortly after 8 a.m. Police said there was a syringe inside the car and several small drug baggies. The doors had been locked and the officer had to break through a rear window to get inside.

The woman’s family expressed suspicions about her death and whether someone she knew played a role in it. Her mother and brother said that the time she spent getting counseling through drug court may have been a double-edged sword. They said she met people who were deeper into the drug world than she had ever been.

Said Elatab, a painter whose work has been on exhibit at the Paterson Museum, stayed up all night one day last week working on a portrait of his daughter, with a white pigeon flapping its wings in the foreground.

“That’s her spirit flying away,” he said.

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey: North Jersey father searches for answers in his daughter’s apparent overdose death

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