As Jersey’s ongoing heroin and prescription drug epidemic continues, drug overdoses have become the leading cause of accidental death in the Garden state.

The state Medical Examiner’s Office reports in 2014 there were 1,305 drug-related deaths, and New Jersey State Police data indicates there were 556 fatalities on Garden state roads.

The Medical Examiner’s Office does not have official numbers for 2015 year, but the data suggests there were about 1,300, while 554 people perished in motor vehicle related crashes, which includes drivers, passengers, pedestrians and cyclists.

“What’s happening with this epidemic is unprecedented. The combination of prescription drug abuse and the heroin epidemic that is in the state of New Jersey is by far the most serious problem that we have faced,” Angelo Valente, the executive director of the Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey, said.

He said the epidemic is raging on, even though the heroin antidote drug Narcan is being used all over the Garden state.

“Over the last year, from what we understand, over 2,000 lives have been saved as a result of using Narcan,” he said. “It’s giving people a second chance, an opportunity to seek treatment and also to be able to start a life over, but it’s very important that once a person does have that opportunity that they do seek treatment. That’s a real crucial step.”

Al Della Fave, spokesman for the Ocean County Prosecutors Office, agrees.

He said the problem is once people get high on heroin it takes over their lives, and “they just continue on that path, taking dose after dose until they just pass out and never recover, unless there’s someone nearby to spray them with Narcan.”

Della Fave said drug overdose deaths may have finally leveled off and started dropping  in Ocean County because when an OD victim is brought to the hospital,  “we have counselors that immediately speak to the sprayed person and try to get them to go into rehab. We know that 'spray and release' is not going to work.

He added since the “Narcan 2” program — in which counselors are sent to ERs — was introduced last year, 10 OD victims have been brought to local hospitals for treatment  after getting Narcan. All 10 have started a detox program, he said.

“We’re hoping this Narcan 2 program is expanded statewide,” he said.

Valente agrees more must be done to educate addicts and their parents, so they can get the help they need.

“Unfortunately the issue is still very prevalent in many communities throughout the state of New Jersey, and we still need to be very diligent in making sure people get the message that this is an issue they need to be concerned about,” he said.

He added “no matter what your zip code is, no matter whether you live in a suburban urban or rural setting in New Jersey, the issue of prescription drug abuse and the connection between that and heroin abuse is an issue that all families have to be speaking to their children about.”

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