From 2014 to 2017, the rate of use of naloxone across New Jersey has almost tripled. In 2014, just under 5,200 doses were used across the state. By 2015, that had jumped to 7,222 doses, and by 2016, more than 10,000 doses had been used to overturn opiate overdoses. In 2017, the number hit almost 15,000 – almost three times as many doses as in 2014. Across almost every county in New Jersey, more doses of naloxone have been administered every year than the year prior, and there is every indication that that trend will continue in 2018.
The Overdose Prevention Agency Corporation in Hamilton is one of a few organizations that are working to make naloxone available in New Jersey and train first responders and others on how to employ the drug in a time of crisis.
Paul Ressler runs the Overdose Prevention Agency Corporation. He says: “There’s more naloxone kits being handed out and there’s more training.”
He also pointed out that those numbers do not include all the times naloxone was administered in an emergency room or by friends and family members of someone in the midst of an overdose. There are also issues with reporting that indicate that the true numbers are actually higher.
Bottom line: There is a huge crisis of opioid addiction and overdose in New Jersey. This is driven by increased use of heroin as well as the fact that the drug cartels that supply the product are spiking their wares with fentanyl, a highly potent synthetic opiate analog.
Why Are Some Counties Seeing a Decrease in Naloxone Use?
In Monmouth and Ocean counties, there was a significant drop in the use of naloxone in the past year over the year prior. In fact, the number of naloxone doses administered was lower by one-third last year. It is not that the county is not attempting to address the problem; both counties also saw correlative drops in the number of overdose deaths caused by opiate drug use in that same time. Instead, these counties may be a testament to the efficacy of treatment; both have programs in place to connect people in crisis with treatment that can help them stop using all substances of abuse, and it is believed that these programs have contributed to the positive change.
For example, in Ocean County in 2017, almost 400 people sought treatment through a county-run program called Blue Hart. Many of the individuals sought help themselves, going directly to police departments to connect with treatment. It is likely that this played a role in the significant drop in overdose deaths. In 2016, 216 people died of opiate overdose in Ocean County, and in 2017, that number dropped to 163, almost 25 percent fewer people.
Monmouth County saw an 8 percent drop in overdose deaths. Both counties use drug courts to redirect people with nonviolent, drug-related offenses into a treatment program rather than incarcerating them.
Simply Shifting the Problem?
Some say that the rate of deaths has not actually changed. Some say that Ocean County has a reputation for being a difficult place for someone to maintain an opiate addiction and that, in response, many people living with active addiction are going elsewhere to seek opiates and overdosing there. For example, Camden and Essex counties have both seen a spike in overdose deaths in the last year, and there is no clear indication why. In fact, the number of overdose deaths in Camden County almost tripled between 2016 and 2017, from a little more than 1,100 to just under 3,000.
Additionally, some suggest that poor reporting practices may be to blame and that the rates have not really dropped but more deaths have gone unreported.
Former Governor Jim McGreevey is the chairman of the New Jersey Reentry Corp., an organization that supports those who were formally incarcerated with connecting with the training and support they need to gain employment. He says: “The use of opioids has spread around the state, with an ever greater rise within urban areas.”
Impacting urban, suburban, and rural areas alike, it is clear that New Jersey is fighting an ongoing battle against opiate addiction and overdose. Has opiate addiction impacted your family?