New Jersey will receive about $26 million in federal funding to help combat the state's opiate and heroin epidemic.

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The federal 21st Century Cures Act allocates $1 billion over two years to help states spend the money on education, prevention and treatment.

U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., N.J. 6th District, joined President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden at the signing ceremony last week.

Reducing and eliminating the drug epidemic ultimately requires that people realize through education that opiates are addictive, Pallone said.

"Then we catch them before they overdose, or after, and they're able to be saved and get into some kind of treatment program. Otherwise, we're going to lose them."

Pallone noted that people start out using prescription drugs thinking they're not addictive "because the drugs are prescribed and available legally." Once they're hooked, they graduate to heroin.

Government agencies are dedicating resources to equip police officers with the opiate antidote Naloxone, also known as Narcan. But access to treatment remains a public policy concern.

"It's hard for people to get treatment unless they're wealthy, which most people who are on drugs are not, because they tend to lose their job, they don't have any income," said Pallone.

Pallone cited the the Damon House in New Brunswick as an example of how residential and outpatient programs can successfully rehabilitate those suffering from addiction, and benefit from the federal money.

"People go there for treatment usually for about six months," said Pallone.

A number of drug rehab centers have waiting lists or are dealing with limited bed space.

In New Jersey, more than 184,000 individuals have been admitted to substance abuse treatment facilities for heroin or opioid abuse since 2010 and more than 5,000 have died from heroin-related deaths since 2004.

The most recent figures from the state Attorney General's Office show drug-related overdoses increased 22 percent in 2015.

Contact reporter Dianne DeOliveira at Dianne.DeOliveira@townsquaremedia.com.

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