Remember when New Jersey’s opioid overdose abuse epidemic was the health crisis making the headlines??

Now, as the novel coronavirus pandemic emergency begins to wind down, there is a renewed push to make sure those addicted opioids get the help they need to break free from drugs and begin down the road to recovery.

During Monday COVID-19 update, New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said officials are concerned to opioid abuse epidemic has been getting worse as the pandemic shut down the state.

Social isolation, grief and job loss are just some of the factors that could contribute to an increase in deaths, she said.

This year there have already been 1,339 suspected overdose deaths, which is up 20% from this time in 2019, she said.

Persichilli said while the health department continues to be vigilant in monitoring overdose data and promoting access to treatment and care, more must be done.

Local health departments will now be eligible to receive grant awards of $100,000 to establish overdose fatality review teams, she said.

Persichilli said these multi-disciplinary county wide teams “will analyze data, identify regional trends and evaluate strategies to decrease opioid deaths.”

She said when local health officials know more about how the epidemic is affecting their communities, “they can more effectively direct policies, practices and partnerships to prevent future overdoses and allocate prevention resources and services where they would do most good.”

“The (health) department recognizes the importance of local solutions to bring about a sustainable change that is needed to address the overdose crisis,” said Persichilli.

A total of $800,000 in funding is being made available through the CDC Overdose Data to Action Grant, for which the New Jersey Department of Health is a recipient.

Applications from local health departments interested in receiving grant money may be submitted between July 6 and Aug. 3, and grants will be awarded by Aug. 18.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com