A lifesaving drug program is set to expand across New Jersey.

(Photo credit: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

Started a year ago in Central Jersey, the Opioid Overdose Prevention Project will expand to North and South Jersey next month. The program, funded by the New Jersey Department of Human Services, will receive an additional $1 million in funding from the Governor's Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse.

JSAS HealthCare in Neptune is the central region partner covering Monmouth, Middlesex, Mercer, Hunterdon, Somerset and Union counties. Under the program, families are provided with free Narcan kits and training on how to administer the nasal spray used to reverse overdoses from heroin and other opioid drugs. Those who complete the training receive identification cards.

According to Edward Higgins, CEO and executive director of JSAS, all project partners will duplicate what JSAS has been doing over the past 12 months.

“We’re giving out free treatment vouchers which allows people to come into treatment without having to pay any fee for the intake, the blood work, the physical exam, and they have 30 days that they can stay in treatment for free," Higgins said. "That gives us an opportunity to really make a decision with them as to where and what is the best level of care and at what site location.”

Higgins said under the program, more than 50 percent of patients have chosen to stay in treatment at their facility in Neptune.

"But, if it made better sense for them to transfer to a clinic in Ocean County, or to another acceptable form of treatment, we would facilitate that,” Higgins said.

As of Aug. 31, 2015, JSAS has had 124 people redeem vouchers, according to Higgins.

“Our first objective is get them off heroin or other opioid drugs, but then we also are looking at do they have an alcohol problem, do they take tranquilizers, are they using cocaine, things like that. That factors into the final decision as to where ultimately their best site for treatment would be,” Higgins said.

Success rates after 90 days of treatment is about 65 percent or higher, according to Higgins.

Each region will receive $225,000 per year, for two years, beginning Oct. 1.

“Besides trying to make treatment much more accessible and available, you need to be equipping family members and individuals themselves with the ability to reverse something that otherwise would take their life,” Higgins said.

Ocean County, where fighting the heroin battle has been a priority of Prosecutor Joseph Coronato, is included in the South Jersey region being covered by Urban Treatment Associates, according to Higgins.

In 2014, there were 781 heroin-related overdose deaths in New Jersey, according to data released earlier this year by the state Department of Criminal Justice.