Finding solutions to the opioid abuse epidemic takes center stage Friday at New Jersey's first comprehensive forum on the issue, being held by The Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey.

Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato, one of the featured keynote speakers who has been leading the battle against the spread of heroin addiction, said progress that has been made through the use of Naloxone, or Narcan, a nasal spray used to block the effects of opioids to save lives. And his county has lead a recovery-coach program, which began in January, to help overdose victims once they are revived and transported to hospitals.

Ocean County has been working with the Barnabas Health System to have a medical professional meet with a revived victim upon arrival to a hospital, to convince that individual to agree to enter a detox facility and ultimately a treatment plan, Coronato said.

"We're close to 65 to 75 percent of the individuals who are sprayed with Narcan ... now agreeing to go into both the detox facility and agreeing to go into a treatment plan, which is tremendous," Coronato said.

Coronato conceded that while there are individuals who have needed to be sprayed more than once — after overdosing again — he said that's where the recovery-coach program is starting to see success.

Those who overdose get continued follow-up for eight weeks. Officials follow up with their families as well — so "even if they don't agree on that particular night or that particular day that they're going to go into the program," there's a good chance they will eventually, Coronato said.

"Hopefully, as I always say, 'Get them while the teardrops are warm.' The bottom line is to convince that person voluntarily that this is the right thing to do," Coronato said.

As of March 31, Ocean County had 30 overdose deaths in 2016, according to Coronato.

"If you play that out, we're going to probably be the highest death toll yet. That would certainly pull out to be potentially 120 deaths by the end of the year," Coronato said.

Between Jan. 1 and April 10, 126 people in Ocean County have been revived with Narcan, he said — "which again puts us about 450-475 sprays (by the end of 2016), so we're probably going to be using Narcan more than we've ever used before."

The death toll could be Ocean County's highest to date, he said.

"We're at the beginning of this marathon. You got to be in for the long haul," Coronato  said. "You can't take one year or two year’s worth of numbers and say you're changing something,"

He projected it could take five years of gathering statistics to determine whether Ocean County's approach is actually making a dent in the problem.

Coronato said advances in the way Narcan is packaged have improved dramatically, reducing the time it takes to administer. He said the sprayer no longer needs assembling because Narcan now comes in a small, hand-held box and the intensity has been increased, so it only needs to be sprayed in one nostril instead of both.

In addition to the next steps being taken with the usage of Naloxone, other topics to be discussed at Friday's forum at Monmouth University in West Long Branch include safer prescribing and patient notification, neonatal abstinence syndrome (problems that occur when a developing infant is exposed to opiods in the wob), scientific advancements in treatments and impact of the heroin epidemic on foster care and other services.

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