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Is Fentanyl Replacing Heroin ? Leading Cause of Overdose Death in NJ?

Opiate addiction has been the primary cause of drug overdose deaths across New Jersey for years now. First, it was painkiller use and abuse that was causing the issue, and then heroin. Now, experts believe that fentanyl is quickly surpassing heroin as the number one cause of opiate overdose deaths across the state.

Fentanyl is anywhere from 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, and it is deadly in very small amounts. People who purchase heroin may not know that the substance is laced with fentanyl, and those who purchase pills on the street may inadvertently buy counterfeit drugs that are made with fentanyl as well.

It is becoming an increasing issue in counties like Middlesex. Back in 2012, just three overdose deaths were attributed to fentanyl in Middlesex County and 42 overdose deaths total across New Jersey. By the end of 2015, however, 30 people had died in Middlesex due to fentanyl overdose and 106 people total had lost their lives due to the synthetic drug across the state.

Gerard McAleer is the chief of detectives at the prosecutor’s office and worked at the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) office in New Jersey from 2006 to 2010. He says he believes that fentanyl will soon overtake heroin as the number one cause of opiate deaths in the state: “I think heroin will go by the wayside.”

Reining in the Epidemic

Addressing opiate addiction and seeing a decline in lives lost in New Jersey due to all opiate drugs starts long before someone is in crisis. The fact is that the problem is so serious that there is no one single thing that will wipe it out. A multipronged approach is necessary, and it starts with prevention efforts and ends with the application of lifesaving medication in the event of a crisis.

We need:

  • Education and awareness: Many in New Jersey are unaware of what fentanyl is, and others may not realize just how small a dose can trigger an overdose. Some even seek out the drug because it is so much more potent than heroin. More needs to be done to educate the public about the risks involved with purchasing any street drug due to the inability to know its exact composition and effect until it is too late.
  • Early identification of substance use disorders: Medical professionals, educators, and law enforcement, as well as parents and guardians, should know the signs of drug abuse and addiction and have protocol in place to connect the person with treatment and counseling.
  • Counseling: Talking to a therapist is the first step in creating a functional treatment program that will be effective in addressing the person’s needs.
  • Detox and treatment: In order to truly put substance use, abuse, and addiction in the past – as well as the risk of overdose – a comprehensive treatment plan that includes detox if necessary, as well as intensive therapeutic intervention and long-term follow-up care and support, is recommended.
  • Overdose intervention access: Until someone can get into treatment, it is important that the opiate overdose reversal medication, naloxone, be on hand. First responders, family, and friends should all have access to the drug. Though it does not guarantee survival – someone has to be present at the time of overdose, recognize the signs, and administer the drug in time – it can increase the odds of surviving the ordeal.
  • Follow-up care after overdose: If someone does survive an overdose, it is important that there is follow-up treatment rather than just cursory medical care and discharge. Living through an overdose can be a wakeup call that ongoing use of opiates can be fatal. It is a prime time to help someone recognize the need for treatment and get them started on the road to recovery.

Matthew P. Geist is a police chief in New Jersey. He says: “The path to recovery is not always obvious or accessible to those in the grip of opiate drugs. Our goal is to reach out to those persons that are victims of addiction and to guide them to the help that they need.”

If someone you love is struggling with addiction to opiates, you can be the person that helps them to recognize the need for treatment. Learn the signs of addiction, get naloxone, and talk to your loved one about entering a drug rehab program today.