In the first seven months of 2020, even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Monmouth County claimed 111 of New Jersey's 1,834 overdose deaths, a number that local lawmakers believe can be driven down if those in danger are made to feel more comfortable talking about their personal demons.

That is the idea behind the new Stigma-Free Monmouth website, launched by the county freeholder board along with the Division of Behavioral Health, which was forged by the combination of the county's mental health and addiction services departments.

Deputy Freeholder Director Sue Kiley said she and her colleagues kept hearing from constituents that Monmouth County didn't have enough resources to deal with the issue of addiction, but she said there are plenty of available resources — people are just afraid to ask where and how to find and use them.

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"We have to start making it OK to talk about that, and we have to start being able to respond to people that need help by being able to point them in the right direction," Kiley said.

Traction for Stigma-Free Monmouth, according to Kiley, grew from the eight-pronged Monmouth ACTS initiative, standing for Assisting Community Through Services. Although that has been in place since 2018, Kiley said there was a need for a sharper focus on mental health and addiction.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic made it clear to the freeholder board that mental and behavioral health troubles would only be increasing as this year went on.

Stigma-Free Monmouth contains various statistics right on its front page to let visitors know that they are not along in their struggles, hopefully creating an environment, in Kiley's words, where stigma is reduced.

Officials say they will know if their efforts are working if some of those statistics start to decrease across Monmouth County. They are going town to town right now to gauge potential involvement from municipal governments.

"I would like to think that if we can get people to acknowledge that they have an issue and seek treatment, that we can reduce the overdose deaths," Kiley said.

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Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email

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