One of the hardest hit areas in the United States for the opiate epidemic is Ocean County, New Jersey. Last year, the county of over 580,000 people had a death toll of 112 overdoses with the majority being heroin-related. Roughly ten percent of New Jersey's total of 1,188 drug overdose deaths. The Jersey Shore which is famous for it's sun, fun and reality TV is now infamous because of this giant drug problem. The deaths from heroin and prescription painkillers in Ocean County are among the highest in the state per capita.
Two New Jersey State Senators Joe Vitale, D- Middlesex and Bob Singer, R- Ocean, came to Ocean County where the problem is the worst in the state. In a roundtable discussion at the Ocean County Health Department located in Toms River, the main focus of the discussion was that opiate addiction needs to be treated as a disease rather than a crime. This concept that opiate addiction is a disease is finally being accepted by society and by our lawmakers. The concept was the backbone of a 21-bill package that was introduced by Legislators recently. “This is an issue that we have to tackle like we tackle every other illness,” said Vitale, a lead sponsor of the legislative package. Singer is also a sponsor of a number of bills in the package.
Among the changes that the 21-bill package will provide, one of the most influential items will be that doctors must inform their patients that some drugs have addictive properties to them. If they are going to prescribe a patient one of these potentially addictive medications, they need to have a discussion about the dangers involved. Another part of the bill includes more education for youth, and the towns citizens. Schools will be provided with more in-depth education of the dangers of opiates and in particular the transition from prescription painkillers to heroin. Many high school students at this time are unaware that prescription painkillers act identical in the brain as heroin does. Also, incarcerated addicts will be provided more resources for treatment. Providing them with treatment can have a major impact on their lives and can have a positive impact on society as well.
Although Ocean County had 112 overdose deaths (with the majority heroin related), this year the numbers are on track to be lower. At this time last year, the number of overdoses were at 89 while this year they are at 52. The drop in overdoses is largely due to the introduction of Narcan to first responders. Narcan (also known as Naloxone), is commonly referred to as the “second chance drug”. It is a medication that reverses the effects of a heroin or prescription painkiller overdoses. Because of this drug, the numbers are much lower according to Joe Coronato, Ocean County Prosecutor. Much of the discussion was directed towards the after effects of Narcan. The drug is administered to an addict, they are taken to the hospital for some tests and then they are discharged without any further help. “If we release them from the hospital and we allow them to go back to their culture, I see that as a lost opportunity,” Coronato said. More education is needed to help curb the abuse.