Ocean County may have suffered more than 200 overdose deaths in 2016
As New Jersey's heroin and opiate epidemic worsens, overdose deaths in Ocean County could top 200 for 2016, pending final toxicology results in the next two week, according to Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato.
As of Dec. 30, Coronato said, "we are at at least 190 confirmed overdose deaths."
Despite the county having been and continuing to be a leader in the war on drugs, Coronato expects the problem to get worse before it can get better.
"The unfortunate part is that I think the reality is that probably within the next year to two years that you're going to see the death rate either double or triple from our current standards," Coronado said.
There is hope in 2017 that a new initiative will help provide some insight into why Ocean County continues have a higher number of overdose deaths than the rest of the state.
"We need to really make a determination as to why are our numbers here in Ocean County continue to spiral out of control," said Coronato.
A task force including agents from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, officials with the New Jersey Attorney General's Office, members of the healthcare community and county detectives will conduct an in-depth analysis to try to come up with answers.
"This is the first time that you have a cooperative effort, both from the federal level, state level and local level to really drill down and to take like a magnifying glass to see if we can solve this problem together," Coronato said.
The task force will meet regularly and share real time information and begin to track the history of drugs in certain individuals from beginning to end, Coronato said.
"How they got introduced into it, and then later on determine how they matriculated through the system and whether or not they either died or whether or not it was a successful outcome," Coronato said.
The study will look at all age groups, male and female. Coronato said person as young as 12 has overdosed, as has someone as old as 72 in Ocean County.
The study could take up to a year, but Coronato said, "I think that we will have some answers within six months, so to better direct our energies and better direct where our money should be placed."
Initiatives that have been in place are helping, but will take time to show an impact, Coronato. said.
Coronato stressed that efforts focusing on Education and Prevention need to continue to reach children at an early age. He also said having recovery coaches in hospitals meet with overdose survivors is proving to be successful in convincing more people to enter treatment programs. In addition, the Strict Liability Law, which allows dealers to be charged in fatal overdose cases, is resulting in more arrests.
Having more treatment options available and being able to measure the success of a program are areas that Coronato feels still need to be improved. However, he is optimistic having a multitude of different agencies working together to tackle the various aspects in the drug war is key to eventually solving the issue.
Contact reporter Dianne DeOliveira at Dianne.DeOliveira@townsquaremedia.com.
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