BY SHANNON McLAUGHLIN
OF PASCACK PRESS
BERGEN COUNTY - Heroin and opioid overdoses continue to rise on national, state and county levels and Bergen County is not immune to the epidemic, according to a report released by Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir S. Grewal.
The report details overdoses that occurred in the county in 2016. According to the report, last year saw a 6.9 percent increase in reported overdoses in the county compared to the year prior. The report stated that in 2016, the 308 overdoses were reported, while 288 overdoses were reported in 2015.
Grewal attributed this to both an overall rise in the number of heroin and opioid abusers and an increase in the potency of heroin being sold. According to the report, heroin is often mixed or substituted with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times more powerful than the drug it replaces.
The prosecutor attributed this unchanging number to an increase of Narcan deployments last year. Naloxone, or “Narcan,” is an overdose reversal drug administered as a nasal spray and, if used in a timely manner, may counteract the effects of an opioid overdose. In 2016, Bergen County law enforcement deployed Narcan 207 times, resulting in 180 saves.
In 2015, law enforcement deployed Narcan 187 times, resulting in 170 saves, the report said.
The report broke down the number of overdose incidents by municipality.
For towns encompassing Pascack Valley, the 2016 results were as follows:
In Emerson, law enforcement saw five overdoses and conducted four Narcan deployments, saving all four recipients.
Law enforcement deployed Narcan once in Hillsdale. That individual fatally overdosed.
Montvale local law enforcement reported four overdoses and Narcan was successfully deployed each time.
In Park Ridge, law enforcement reported one fatal overdose. Narcan was not deployed.
River Vale law enforcement reported two overdoses in 2016, one of which was fatal.
Local law enforcement in Washington Township reported zero overdoses.
Westwood law enforcement reported six overdoses and Narcan was deployed at five instances. Out of those five, four were saved. In total, Westwood saw two overdose fatalities for 2016.
Woodcliff Lake law enforcement reported no overdose incidents.
Despite these staggering numbers, Grewal said the true number of overdoses in Bergen County is likely even higher.
The report only includes incidents that were reported by law enforcement. Grewal said there are likely additional instances where law enforcement was not notified and overdose victims sought treatment at a hospital.
The report also detailed the demographics opioid users. Men made up almost 75 percent of all opioid related overdose victims, with 178 reported overdoses. The highest age bracket of female and male users were those in the 25-31 age range.
New Jersey’s opioid epidemic is not only being fought at the county level. Gov. Chris Christie addressed the issue at his state of the state address in January, saying that fighting against drug use would be his centerpiece policy for his final year in office.
“Drug overdose deaths escalated by nearly 22 percent in New Jersey between the year 2014 and 2015, largely due to opioids,” Christie told the legislature. “Nearly 1,600 people lost their lives to drugs in New Jersey in 2015. That is more than four times the number of murders in New Jersey in 2015. That is three times the number of people that were killed in car accidents in 2015.”
The governor recently announced a program as a part of this initiative. During his state of the state address, Christie mentioned the closure of a prison and its repurposing as the first-ever fully-dedicated drug treatment prison. This month, the governor added that the Gateway Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides treatment services to substance abusers in the criminal justice system, will be treating offenders at Mid-State Correctional Facility when it reopens, according to a press release from the governor’s office.
“People suffering from the disease of addiction deserve holistic and individualized treatment, whether they’re in the community or incarcerated,” said Christie. “With the Gateway Foundation at the helm of Mid-State, we will save lives, break the costly cycle of addiction, avoid recidivism and help countless people return as productive members of their families and our society.”
Those wishing to keep up with the fight against addiction on the county level can follow Grewal’s Twitter or Facebook account, where he promotes educational programming to fight the epidemic.
Federal grants of up to $1.2 million are available to local nonprofits and municipalities through the Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Program Training and Technical Assistance Program, U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer said on March 16, urging eligible entities to apply.
“North Jersey needs to expand our comprehensive fight against the opioid addiction crisis, and there are federal funds available to do just that,” said Gottheimer.