The rate of people who died from heroin and prescription opiate abuse in Monmouth County between 2011 and 2013 was three times the number of homicides and highway fatalities combined.
The battle to bring this down has begun.
The first kits of the heroin overdose antidote naloxone, or Narcan, have been delivered to police departments in Monmouth County and are now being deployed in an effort to stave off the rising number of deaths associated with the lethal drug, Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni announced.
According to the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office:
In April, Monmouth and Ocean counties were designated by Governor Chris Christie as the pilot programs for deployment of naloxone (Narcan®) with law enforcement officers.
By the end of the month, a designated training officer from every law enforcement agency in Monmouth County, including the law enforcement entities at Brookdale Community College and Monmouth University, were trained during two train-the-trainer sessions at the county police academy. Those trainers were tasked with returning to their respective departments to train the patrol officers in using the overdose antidote.
“No one’s life is a throw-away. We can’t sit back and dismiss heroin addicts as junkies who created their own problems nor can we minimize them as someone who deserves to die. Heroin addiction is a serious problem with fatal consequences.
These addicts are our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, our mothers and our fathers, and our neighbors. They need help, and they can only get help if they are alive. Naloxone (Narcan®) can saves lives and is saving lives so they can get the help and treatment they need,” Gramiccioni said.
Since 1999, the rate of overdose deaths attributed to prescription opiates has increased over 400 percent, and from 2006 to 2010 there has been a 45 percent increase in heroin overdose deaths across the United States.
In New Jersey there was a 24 percent increase in opiate and heroin related overdose deaths in just the 18-26-year-old group – the largest user group abusing heroin and prescription opiates.
In Monmouth County, between 2011 and 2013, the rate of people who died from heroin and prescription opiate abuse is eclipsing (three times) the number of homicides and highway fatalities combined.
“The epidemic of prescription opiates and heroin deaths is a staggering statistic that every person has to concern themselves with today. We can no longer turn a blind eye and dismiss this situation as an inner-city problem, or a problem seen in the poorer areas of the county.
Heroin addiction is affecting families from every walk of life – in the affluent suburbs, in the board rooms of major corporations, from rock stars to Academy Award winners and down to the darkest, most desperate people you can imagine. Naloxone is just one step in the right direction. It’s not a cure-all, it just buys time to save lives and hopefully to get them treatment,” explained Monmouth County First Assistant Prosecutor Marc C. LeMieux.
The deployment of naloxone adds to the tools now available across New Jersey to aid in the fight against heroin and opiate overdose deaths. Prevention and education are the key ingredients to fighting this deadly addiction, but those issues are everybody’s responsibility.
“Let me be clear: We are not going to arrest our way out of the heroin epidemic plaguing Monmouth County or anywhere else around the country. This problem usually starts with prescription drug abuse and quickly morphs into a full-blown heroin addiction. Naloxone will serve as a life-saving measure in case of an overdose, but the real life-saving efforts must begin at home and in the classroom where a frank and open discussion about prescription opiates and heroin must be a common dinner table conversation or a part of any classroom instruction,” said Chief Michael Pasterchick, at the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office and the retired Special Agent in-Charge of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration’s New Jersey Division.
In May 2012, Governor Christie signed into law “The Overdose Prevention Act” providing a two-prong approach to aid in the prevention of drug overdose deaths across New Jersey by providing legal protection to people who are in violation of the law while they are attempting to help a drug overdose victim, and eliminating legal action against health care professionals or bystanders who administer overdose antidotes in life-threatening situations.
“Police officers carry a lot of tools to do their job: a service weapon allows them to combat violent criminals, handcuffs aid in controlling offenders, and other non-lethal alternatives such as mace or a taser can be used to subdue fleeing, belligerent, or potentially dangerous individuals, so adding naloxone to help save a life becomes a critical tool for every member of law enforcement because in most cases they are the first to arrive on the scene,” said Aberdeen Police Chief John T. Powers, president of the Monmouth County Police Chief’s Association.
In August 2013, Prosecutor Gramiccioni declared the prescription opiate and heroin problem in Monmouth County had reached epidemic proportions. That declaration was followed by Gramiccioni launching a heroin awareness program for parents and students to bring attention to the fatal reality of prescription opiate and heroin addiction in collaboration with the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, Prevention First and many other institutions and organizations working in the trenches of getting drug abusers the help they need. The awareness campaign was sparked by the increase in overdose deaths for young adults in the 18-26 years old group, and has focused on changing the conversation about the realities of heroin and prescription opiate addiction and the fatal consequences for the biggest killer of people in Monmouth County.
“We talk to our children about bicycle safety. We talk to our children about bullying, sexual predators, and how to safely cross the street. We point out stranger dangers, the risks of smoking tobacco and abusing a lot of different drugs. Talking to our children about prescription drug abuse and how it can lead to a heroin addiction must become a part of our every day conversation if we are going to stop this epidemic at home,” said Angelo Valente, executive director at the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey.
The naloxone kits are being paid for by forfeiture funds in the County Law Enforcement Trust Account (CLETA). The CLETA fund is an accumulation of money seized during arrests as the proceeds of illegal activity. Three hundred Naloxone kits were initially purchased with funds from the CLETA fund, with an additional 150 units expected to arrive for distribution in the very near future.“The drug money we seized from heroin dealers arrested during our proactive law enforcement activities like ‘Operation Hats Off’ and ‘Operation Dead End’ is being used to save lives and reverse the effects pushed by these purveyors of death,” LeMieux added.