State officials hoped the state had turned a corner in combating the opioid epidemic when overdose deaths declined slightly in 2019. The first batch of numbers for the new year suggests that might not be the case.

In a visit to Ocean Mental Health Service in Bayville, where a half-dozen Cabinet departments joined Murphy for a roundtable talk with people in recovery, health professionals and lawmakers, Murphy said the January data on overdoses “continues to be quite concerning.”

The 280 drug-related deaths last month were down 3% from December – but they marked the third straight month with at least that many, which had happened just once in the 12 months before that and just three times in at least 22 months.

“It is a decrease from the amount of deaths in December, which is fine, but it’s still 280 people lost their lives last month due to this scourge,” Murphy said. “And that concerningly is up from 203 in January of last year.”

That’s a 38% increase year over year, although that might not be a telling comparison as January 2019 had the fewest drug-related deaths of any month in at least the past two years, when the state began issuing monthly data.

“I’m not sure there’s an apt seasonal-to-seasonal, month-to-month comparison like you would in some other situations, but needless to say we are far, far, far from the goal line,” Murphy said.

Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson announced at the event that 12 counties will share $1.67 million in County Innovation Awards to Address the Opioid Epidemic.

“What we said to county leaders across the state was: Tell us what your ideas are for local solutions that meet the needs in your community, and we will fund local initiatives if you hold a competitive process to really address those local needs,” Johnson said.

Ocean County got the biggest award, nearly $230,000 in part to focus on transportation for people needing to access treatment. More awards are expected later, as $3 million of the $100 million for opioids-related funding in the state budget is slotted for such grants.

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Johnson also announced that the state on Monday shipped 53,000 doses of naloxone, an overdose antidote, to 424 police departments across the state, including 19,000 to 19 departments in Ocean County. The state also provided 400 doses to public libraries.

The state is also relaunching the Reach NJ public service initiative with fresh messages based on input from individuals in recovery and their families.


Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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