Thursday welcomed a "dream come true" for the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office — something the office has been pushing for since 2013.

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Expansion of the New York/New Jersey High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) now includes Ocean County, which has been a hot zone for the opioid epidemic sweeping New Jersey and the United States. The federal drug prevention program gives the county access to critical resources in the fight against heroin and painkiller abuse.

"It's a game-changer," Al Della Fave, spokesman for the prosecutor's office, told New Jersey 101.5. "What it now does for us is gives us access to intel beyond our borders."

Della Fave said the partnership can assist in halting the import of illegal substances from outside Ocean County, which he describes as a "receiving" county.

Designated in 1990, the New York-New Jersey region was one of the five original HIDTA due to the heavy presence of airports and railroad miles, as well as an extensive waterfront with multiple points of entry.

According to the NY/NJ HIDTA, one of 28 throughout the country, Ocean County in 2015 experienced the second-highest incidence of heroin-related deaths in the Garden State. Della Fave said the county has seen 105 overdose deaths so far in 2017, and 241 overdose reversals with Narcan.

“The opioid epidemic plaguing our nation continues to tear families and communities apart across Ocean County and our entire state,” said U.S. Sen. Cory Booker in a news release announcing the expansion. “The key to finding a long-term solution to the opioid crisis is to implement an all-hands-on-deck approach that includes law enforcement, medical professionals, and treatment providers. This designation will do just that by increasing coordination among all levels of government and providing Ocean County access to critical federal resources."

Congressional leaders in 2016 were successful in expanding the NY/NJ HIDTA to include Monmouth County, which has also seen a sharp rise in drug use and trafficking.

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