The State of the Opiate Epidemic in NJ (2018)

Medically Reviewed

New Jersey is setting records for opioid abuse and overdose death rates. In 2018, the Garden State expects to lose eight residents every day to opioid overdose, and the number of overdose deaths is expected to reach 3,000 by the end of the year.

Opioid overdose death rates are higher in New Jersey (NJ) than the national average. In 2016, about 16 people per 100,000 population died from an opioid overdose in the state while the national overdose death rate was 13.3 people per 100,000 population, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) publishes. Overdose deaths involving heroin and synthetic opioids like fentanyl are climbing in New Jersey. There were 97 overdose deaths involving heroin in 2010 and 850 in 2016.

Synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, can be made in clandestine laboratories, and they are often laced into heroin and prescription opiates. There were only 35 overdose deaths involving a synthetic opioid in 2010, but the number of fatalities jumped to 689 in 2016.

Some New Jersey counties that have been hardest hit by opioid overdose deaths in 2017 are:

  • Essex with 362
  • Camden with 308
  • Middlesex with 265
  • Ocean with 191
  • Monmouth with 171
  • Atlantic with 168
  • Burlington with 150

Opioid overdose death rates are a measure of opiate abuse in a region. Not all overdoses are fatal, as access to the opioid-overdose reversal drug increases, and more first responders and community members are carrying the drug naloxone. New Jersey publishes a real-time dashboard through the NJ CARES (New Jersey Coordinator for Addiction Response and Enforcement Strategies) website that keeps track of opioid-overdose related information. Between Jan. 1, 2018, and Aug. 31, 2018, naloxone was recorded to have been administered 10,763 times in New Jersey.

Without question, opiate abuse is at epidemic levels in the state of New Jersey. Legislators and community members are taking aim at the public health crisis.

Turning The Tables on Opiate Abuse

One of the ways to target opiate abuse in an area is to limit the availability of these drugs. To combat opiate abuse, policymakers, legislators, and law enforcement agencies look to stop things like prescription drug diversion and abuse. New Jersey has one of the strictest prescriber laws in the United States, limiting initial opioid prescriptions for acute pain to only five days at a time.

Educational programs for prescribers, stricter prescription limits, and closer monitoring of the dispensation of controlled substances through the New Jersey Prescription Monitoring Program (NJPMP) have contributed to a nearly 30 percent drop in opioid prescriptions dispensed in 2017 compared to 2013 rates. Fewer dispensed prescriptions of these commonly misused and diverted drugs hopefully means fewer drugs on the street and fewer people developing opiate addictions.

Unfortunately, the promising dip in opioid prescription rates in New Jersey has not coincided with declining opioid overdose rates. In fact, quite the opposite has occurred as opioid overdose deaths continue to climb. The disparity has been attributed to the rise in synthetic drugs that can be made illegally, such as fentanyl, which contributed to nearly half of all opioid overdoses in New Jersey in 2017, up about 44 percent from the previous year. Fentanyl is more potent than even heroin, and users often aren’t even aware that the opioid they are taking contains the cheaper and more powerful opioid.

Opioid overdose deaths are declining in one county in New Jersey — Ocean County. Opioid overdose deaths actually went down from 253 fatalities in 2016 to only 86 in the first half of 2017 (through June 17, 2017). Part of this decline is attributed to the Blue Hart (Heroin Addiction Response Team) program that allows residents to turn in drugs to seven different police departments and then enter straight into a drug addiction treatment program even if they don’t have insurance and can’t pay for it. Ocean County law enforcement is also cracking down on drug diversion and illicit distribution by holding individuals dealing drugs liable for drug-induced deaths.

Other counties in New Jersey are taking steps to combat opioid and drug addiction as well. Essex County holds the ReNew Court, which gives eligible prisoners leaving federal prison the option to enter into a specialized and supervised program to take a year off their supervised release period. Another alternative court program in New Jersey is the Pretrial Intervention Program (PTI), which helps people brought up on addiction- or drug-related charges for the first time to get into a specialized treatment program instead of serving jail time.

NJ CARES is a statewide office that is set up to oversee Opioid Response Teams (ORT) throughout the state. These teams include substance abuse counselors, mental health advocates, local police, and first responders who are on call to respond quickly to residents in crisis involving opioid drugs.

Local Treatment Saves Lives

To address the opioid crisis in New Jersey, the Reach NJ Facing Addiction Taskforce provides resources and education on local treatment options, crisis services, information for loved ones, recovery support groups and centers, and data on opioids in general. Opioid addiction treatment can help to prevent overdose, thus saving lives. Prevention measures, treatment programs, and recovery support services all make up the continuum of care that helps to minimize opioid abuse and its potentially hazardous consequences.

Residents of New Jersey can find resources for addiction prevention measures, treatment services, and recovery support through the Division of Addiction Services (DAS) under the State of New Jersey Department of Human Services. Public treatment services are provided to residents in need regardless of insurance coverage or financial situation, and fees are often waived or low, depending on financial need.

The Department of Human Services publishes that there are four main phases of treatment for substance abuse in the Garden State. 

1. Inpatient care (six levels of care):

  • Sub-acute detox
  • Sub-acute medical detox
  • Short-term residential programs
  • Long-term residential programs
  • Halfway house services
  • Partial care that is residentially assisted

2. Outpatient programs (six levels of care):

  • Early intervention services
  • Outpatient programs
  • Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) and methadone intensive outpatient programs (MIOPs)
  • Partial hospitalization/day treatment
  • Outpatient detox
  • Opioid maintenance therapy

3. Pre-treatment recovery support:

  • Pre-treatment assessment
  • Case management
  • Motivational counseling
  • Recovery mentors

Post-treatment recovery support:

  • Quarterly phone conversations
  • Coaching
  • Peer support, self-help, and 12-step programs
  • Transitional housing services

New Jersey’s DAS also began the Medication Assisted Treatment Initiative (MATI) that provides eligible New Jersey residents with medication-assisted treatment, outreach, detox, office-based care, case management, supportive housing, methadone maintenance, and mobile treatment services through MATI-contracted and regional providers. Opioid addiction treatment is managed through community-based providers on a regional basis from county to county, and the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) provides an Addiction Services Treatment Directory of licensed agencies.

Private addiction treatment programs often offer more flexibility with treatment options as well as enhanced privacy, increased access to more immediate care, and more amenities and luxuries. Holistic and complementary methods, such as massage therapy, yoga, nutrition planning, spa treatments, fitness programs, and mindfulness meditation, are often options for enhancing addiction treatment programs.

Both private and public treatment providers can provide New Jersey residents and their families with individual, family, and group counseling and therapy services as well as medication management, medical and mental healthcare and support, integrated treatment for co-occurring disorders, life skills training, tools for minimizing relapse, educational programming, continuing support and aftercare services, and help with a sustained and long recovery. Opioid abuse, addiction, and overdose are manageable through a full continuum of care provided on an individual basis.

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