New Jersey Heroin Epidemic

New Jersey, one of the original 13 colonies that held one of the most important battlegrounds during the American Revolution, yet again finds itself being a battleground for a modern-day war; the war on drugs. Also known as the Garden State for its leading production in blueberries, corn, tomatoes, and cranberries is now getting national attention for its production in high rate overdoses and drug usage. Drug overdose is currently the leading cause of deaths in New Jersey. There have been over 14,000 deaths from drug overdoses since 2004. Out of those 14,000 deaths, 5,217 were caused by Heroin. 54% of those deaths are from people under the age of forty. Heroin addicts are often viewed as these outliers of society but the truth is heroin users are mothers, fathers, lawyers, politicians, students, people experiencing homelessness, law enforcement, no one of any one race, age or occupation is safe from the grip of addiction. In fact, Women, white people and adults aged 18 to 25 and people in higher income brackets– historically at low risk for heroin usage– have all been part of the dramatic spikes in abuse of heroin in the recent years.

As dire as the situation is nationwide, the epidemic is much worse in New Jersey. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced in 2016 that the rate of heroin overdose deaths is three times the average compared to the national average. The 741 heroin-related deaths in 2013 account for 8.3 deaths per 100,000 people in the state of New Jersey, far outpacing the national figure of 2.6 for the same year.  According to a report in 2016, opiate-related fatalities outpaced deaths from guns. Car crashes and suicides combined. New Jersey experienced a 36 percent jump in drug overdoses deaths from November 2016 to November 2017, the highest percentage increase in the nation, according to the CDC. Other data, previously reported, show drugs in New Jersey could top 3,000 by the end of 2018.

Since the outbreak of addiction and deaths due to substance abuse, New Jersey has taken a series of actions to address, control and prevent the numbers from increasing. In 2017, now former Gov. Chris Christie announced a 200 million dollar plan to fight the heroin epidemic which he hopes will become a model for other states dealing with the same issue. The multi-million dollar plans included these initiatives:

  • $40 million will go towards establishing incentive-based treatment programs for those without insurance or Medicaid.
  • The Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services will use #36 million to provide housing and support for adults with substance abuse disorders.
  • Nearly $35 million will go toward several programs supporting opioid-addicted mothers, their babies, and broader families.
  • The recovery coach program, which pairs recovering addicts with recent overdose survivors, will be expanded to every county in New Jersey for $21 million.
  • Hiring nonprofit groups that tackle the drug epidemic to take their programs into elementary schools in order to educate and help prevent heroin and opioid addiction at a younger age.

The opioid crisis took hold early in Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s first term and even after all his attempts and multi-million dollar plans the epidemic shows no indication of easing. Now that his successor Democrat Phil Murphy is Governor he plans to strike the epidemic by treating addiction as an illness that is “treatable with the right sources and focus in place” he stated during his campaign. While running for Governor of New Jersey Murphy, announced he would tackle down the opioid crisis by:

  • Expanding access to drug treatment facilities.
  • Increasing access to preventative medical treatment.
  • Establishing a 7- day limit on initial opiate prescriptions.
  • Lowering the cost of Narcan.
  • Funding a public awareness campaign about opioid addiction prevention.
  • Expand support systems for individuals who overdose.

In April 2018 Gov. Phil Murphy proposed that the state budget include $100 million to combat the state’s opioid epidemic. More than half of that — $56 million — will help fund drug prevention, treatment, and recovery programs. 31 million of the 100 million will be devoted to dealing with social risk factors that can lead to relapse. Many preventative measures are up and running or due to launch soon but programs as such fail to address the thousands of New Jerseyans who are already addicted to drugs, where preventative measure are far too late. Not to mention many addicts end up in the prison system where drugs are as easy to access as the street of New Jersey. Seventy to Eighty percent of inmates have substance abuse issues, some continue that use in the prison system others being behind bars is the only way to detox. Though some inmates might stay sober while in jail there is still a 95 percent rate of relapse upon release. Some jails and prisons have created therapeutic communities where inmates with addiction live together in a recovery-focused environment and receive some type of treatment and more also are beginning to provide aftercare when inmates are released, which further improves outcomes, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). With the newest programs implemented, it is difficult to measure their effectiveness until it can be reviewed in hindsight.

With the opioid crisis soaring in New Jersey for more than a decade the substance abuse treatment industry has blossomed as a result. More than 100 new treatment centers have opened in the past four years, a 33 percent increase. However, there are currently 5 counties in New Jersey where the heroin death rates far outpace the number of treatment beds available. Since 2010, 184,038 people were admitted into New Jersey substance abuse treatment facilities for heroin. Of those patients 72.3% were White. The Newton Medical Center Emergency Department said the amount of opioid overdoses today is similar to the number of deaths during the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. The major public health crisis leaves New Jersey with no other option but to take extreme measure in finding a future regimen of opioid treatment to combat the disease.

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