Why NJ’s Fatal Drug Overdoses Remain Flat as Nation’s Death Rate Spikes


New Jersey’s drug deaths are nonetheless staggeringly excessive—2020’s toll was a file—in comparison with 2012 when 1,223 folks in New Jersey died from a drug overdose.

By Ken Serrano

Asbury Park Press


Racked with heroin habit greater than a decade in the past, Morgan Thompson loosened the unrelenting grip of opioids with the assistance of applications like a sober-living pupil housing association at Rutgers.

Thompson, 31, is now married, a mom, and the CEO of Prevention Hyperlinks, a drug prevention and restoration help non-profit – the kind of group that helped save her.

The enlargement of group help applications like that Roselle-based heart represents a shift from the way in which New Jersey dealt with habit 5 years in the past, restoration specialists say. The development in drug overdose deaths in New Jersey suggests these and different efforts have paid off because the nation faces a mounting disaster.

In contrast to a lot of the remainder of the nation, New Jersey’s drug overdose deaths have been almost flat for 3 years, from 3,006 deaths in 2018, to three,021 in 2019 and three,046 in 2020, in accordance with NJ CARES, run by the state Legal professional Basic’s workplace. The figures for the previous two years, listed as suspected drug deaths, have but to be finalized.

On the Shore, Monmouth County’s drug overdose deaths stood at 215 in 2018, 187 in 2019 and 186 in 2020. Ocean County’s figures had been 219, 204 and 245, respectively.

New Jersey’s drug deaths are nonetheless staggeringly excessive — 2020’s toll was a file — in comparison with 2012 when 1,223 folks in New Jersey died from a drug overdose.

Nationwide, deadly drug overdoses rose by 28.8% from the 12-month interval ending September 2019 to the 12 months ending September 2020, in accordance with the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention.

There have been 87,203 reported deadly drug overdoses by the 12 months that led to September of final 12 months (one other 2,800 had been suspected) up from 68,757 in 2019. When the pandemic hit, overdose fatalities spiraled upward a lot worse than ever earlier than, these statistics present.

Some specialists view the current statistics from New Jersey with skepticism.

Throughout the pandemic, the sheer variety of deaths overwhelmed medical experts across the nation, probably resulting in the misidentification of the causes of deaths, mentioned Frank Greenagel, an habit counselor and lecturer at Rutgers College of Social Work.

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However Greenagel acknowledges that issues have modified in New Jersey for the higher — a giant step from 5 years in the past when he stood out as probably the most vocal critics of the way in which the state was dealing with the heroin epidemic.

“There’s loads to be pleased with,” he mentioned. “We’ve seen a whole lot of optimistic modifications.”

However have these modifications truly stored the dying toll down?

“I need one other 12 months or two earlier than I’d be prepared to present that one up,” he mentioned, to see if the statistics get revised upward when drug overdose deaths in New Jersey are confirmed.

Group-based peer help applications just like the one Thompson runs permit folks to proceed with restoration after leaving in-patient settings.

“It’s an actual shift since you hear these tales about folks going into detox applications again and again, six, seven, twelve instances inside very quick durations of time,” Thompson mentioned. “And that revolving door of remedy that we hear about doesn’t put together somebody to interact in a wholesome substance-free” life.

These facilities hyperlink folks with providers like housing, employment assist, counseling, continued remedy and different providers not absolutely handled in a residential remedy heart – an integral a part of a continuum of care, Thompson mentioned.

State-funded facilities function in a couple of dozen counties in New Jersey, whereas 5 years in the past there have been two funded by the state, Thompson mentioned.

Different developments have helped New Jersey to maintain the dying toll from climbing.

Extra remedy beds

The variety of people who went into residential remedy rose by 68% from 2016 to 2019, in accordance with the state Division of Human Providers.

At the least 120 extra outpatient websites have been licensed, bringing intensive remedy nearer to dwelling for sufferers in New Jersey, mentioned Ellen Lovejoy, spokeswoman for the division.

The drug overdose antidote naloxone has additionally performed a task.

“The very first thing we’ve executed proper was to broaden entry to naloxone,” Thompson mentioned.

The Science of Opioids: How a nation grew to become addicted

Doses or administrations given out by regulation enforcement officers and medics have risen from 7,227 in 2015 to 14,437 in 2020, in accordance with NJ CARES, though the latter determine doesn’t precisely replicate the expansion of its use. The numbers of these doses given out by police and EMTs have fallen within the final three years however that’s due to higher entry to most of the people and probably disruptions of service as a result of pandemic.

For the reason that begin of the pandemic the state has handed out 64,000 free doses to residents at greater than 300 pharmacies and given 70,000 free doses to police, EMS, homeless shelters, libraries and inmate reentry organizations, Lovejoy mentioned.

Together with naloxone, peer restoration specialists who attempt to steer overdose victims into remedy, sometimes after an overdose, have additionally stored the dying toll in test. 5 years in the past, there have been coaches in a couple of hospitals within the state. Now they function in each county.


An enlargement of Medicaid has additionally contributed, Thompson mentioned.

Beginning in 2018, New Jersey sufferers age 18 to 64 who’re eligible for Medicaid had been capable of obtain each short-term and long-term residential remedy for substance abuse. Previous to that, that age group was excluded.

“We used to see a number of weeks ready time for a remedy mattress. Now, it’s uncommon if it’s greater than a day or two,” Thompson mentioned.

Treatment-assisted remedy

Medicines to struggle addictions like Suboxone and Vivitrol at the moment are far more obtainable than they had been 5 years in the past.

One purpose was Medicaid fee incentives to encourage main care suppliers to supply remedy, Lovejoy mentioned.

And residential remedy services that acquired Medicaid reimbursements for habit providers at the moment are required to supply Treatment Assisted Remedy, she mentioned.

It’s an essential step since some folks don’t reply to the non-medicinal 12-step strategy that many services use, Thompson mentioned.

“We’ve over-relied as a subject for many years on 12-step applications, that are crucial and efficient for some however not for everybody, “ she mentioned.

Prescriptions decline

Extra spectacular is the steep drop in opioid prescriptions in New Jersey. The variety of prescriptions has fallen from 5,640,864 in 2015 to three,637,522 in 2020, a 38% decline.

The New Jersey Legislature handed a regulation in 2017 that restricted preliminary opioid prescriptions to a five-day provide for many sufferers, which has been credited with the lower.

Greenagel attributed a few of that drop to Legal professional Basic Gurbir Grewal’s strict stand towards these illegally prescribing opioids.

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However training of medical workers on the risks of opioids and the increasing Prescription Monitoring Program, a statewide database of prescription knowledge, have additionally been key, he mentioned.

Fentanyl strips and different choices

Greenagel remains to be pushing for extra coaching for medical doctors and different prescribers concerning the risks of opioids and to make the Prescription Monitoring Program obligatory.

Thompson says “hurt discount” methods like fentanyl testing strips for heroin customers needs to be used to decrease the dying price.

“An abstinence-only mannequin is just not the one choice,” she mentioned. “The one manner we’re going to convey the dying toll down is thru hurt discount.”

Extra coordination of housing, employment and different providers can also be essential, she mentioned,

“There must be a single entity that makes certain all these providers work collectively in a scientific manner,” she mentioned.

Main issues stay, Greenagel mentioned.

Information on which remedy applications in New Jersey work and which don’t is woefully absent, he mentioned. There’s no uniform system to trace how effectively sufferers do, notably after leaving a facility, he mentioned.

Insurance coverage corporations have some affect over creating a greater mannequin that might reward applications with confirmed success, he mentioned.

“They (remedy suppliers) have an incentive to maintain that knowledge from the general public,” he mentioned. “Alcohol and drug remedy has gotten higher within the final 20 years nevertheless it’s nonetheless very a lot at the hours of darkness ages.”

Ken Serrano has coated crime, breaking information, investigations and native points in New Jersey for greater than 20 years. Attain him at 732-643-4029 or kserrano@gannettnj.com.

This text initially appeared on Asbury Park Press: Why NJ’s deadly drug overdoses stay flat as nation’s dying price spikes


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