Drug Deaths In New Jersey Reach Over 3,000 For 1st Time

January 09, 2019 - 2:57 pm

TRENTON, N.J. (WCBS 880) — Drug related deaths in New Jersey were up in 2018 for the fourth year in a row.

More than 3,100 people died of drug overdoses in the state last year and with the state already pledging millions of dollars to stem the tide, people want to know what more can be done.

Officials said more than half of those deaths can be linked to drug use related to the opioid pain reliever Fentanyl, which earlier this decade accounted for only a small percentage of overdose deaths.

“It’s obviously a multi-faceted problem with multi-faceted type of solutions,” said Sharon Joyce, the director of NJ Cares.

She believes the key to ending opioid abuse is by getting doctors to prescribe fewer pain pills that often end up in the wrong hands.

Angelo Valente, the executive director of Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, agrees, saying education is key and that Fentanyl is a major issues. 

“I think the major part of the reason why we're seeing such an increase in the number of deaths is because of Fentanyl. Fentanyl has become an ingredient that is in many of the drugs that are being distributed and because of the potency of Fentanyl, it’s causing people to be involved in overdoes,” said Valente.

He says the deaths are likely a result of the ongoing opioid crisis that has been sweeping through the United States for years.

“This epidemic is impacting every community and it's impacting people of all economic demographics, people in urban communities, people in rural communities, suburbs. Unfortunately there hasn't been any group of individuals or any area of the state of the country has been spared,” Valente said.

New Jersey has committed hundreds of millions of dollars to counter drug addictions in the state and there have been some victories. In fact, it’s believed Narcan, an opioid overdose antidote, likely saved thousands of lives.

Though, Valente believes more can be done in terms of preventative measures, including educating people about alternatives to opiate medications.

“Our recent studies show that still a third of New Jersey parents of children under the age of eighteen still don’t see a link between prescribed medicines and the opioid epidemic,” Valente notes.

There is a law in New Jersey that requires doctors to educate patients about the dangers of opiate medications before prescribing them, Valente says.

Additionally, state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has said his office is making a greater effort in providing new data on the opioid epidemic.

Grewal, whose office published the 2018 report, says that although drug overdose deaths in New Jersey are up, the number of opioid prescriptions has dropped.