Heroin overdose deaths are now rising significantly in almost every part of the Garden State.

“Not to be a Chicken Little, but I really don’t see any calming down in the future. This is really, really getting bad,” Ocean County Prosecutor Joe Coronato said last week.

“It certainly looks like we’re not only going to exceed the death toll of last year, but it looks like it’s going to be somewhere between at least 150 to 160 overdose deaths in Ocean County, which is unthinkable,” he said.

"I’m telling you the numbers are astounding. It used to be we would have an overdose death, one or two over the weekend. There’s some weekends now when we have eight bodies.”

The rising death toll comes despite more awareness campaigns about the dangers of prescription pain medication and distribution of the heroin overdose antidote Narcan to police departments across the state.

Hunterdon County Prosecutor Anthony P. Kearns III says heroin overdose deaths are getting worse in his county, with 28 overdoses reported so far this year, nine of them fatal. There were 40 overdoses for all of 2015, with 12 fatal ones.

“So far this year, police deployed Narcan and saved 18 people, compared to 16 saves in all of 2015. Without police administering Narcan, that could have been 18 more deaths this year," Kearns said.

“It is obvious that the recent statistics are showing that this epidemic is getting worse," he added.

"The impact of the heroin epidemic is not only tragic to families, but also causes a strain on healthcare and government services. The overall impact on a community is affected as addicts often resort to crime to feed their addictions. The sickness of addiction is everyone’s problem and it can no longer be ignored here in Hunterdon or elsewhere. It’s happening here. Our efforts include enforcing the law, preventing addiction, preventing death, and preserving the quality of life for all families, regardless of their struggles.”

So what’s causing the overdose death toll to spike so significantly?

“This happening because drug dealers are cutting their product with powerful deadly drugs,” said Coronato. “They’re using synthetic opiates, and these synthetic opiates are so much more powerful than just plain old heroin. The body cannot handle it and, as a result, they’re overdosing and dying.”

Coronato explained heroin users will shoot or snort anything they can get their hands on, without knowing or caring what it’s mixed with.

“Once the body has become acclimated to the opiate, when you don’t take opiates anymore you become physically sick, you feel ill. Instead of getting sick, throwing up, getting the shakes, all they’re looking for is to try to get better, and they’ll go out and try to find more powerful stuff so that it calms their body down for a longer period of time.”

He pointed out there are big advantages for dealers to mix the heroin they have with synthetic additives.

“It’s actually cheaper to make, it’s easy to make and you only need very, very small amounts to make something that’s extremely powerful,” he said

Coronato stressed we must continue to work on “capturing” addicts and get them into a rehab and recovery facilities so the cycle of addiction can be broken.

He said we must step up efforts to do this because “the death rate, especially between the ages of 21 to 32, is just totally spiraling out of control, and unfortunately if you look down the road, I could see it doubling or tripling."

Kearns said state law protects witnesses and victims who seek medical attention from arrest, prosecution or revocation of parole or probation for possession or use of illegal drugs.

Authorities refer addicts and their families to to programs that can help.

Prosecutors also are targeting drug dealers accused of providing a dose that proves to be lethal.

Christopher T. Brown, 38, of Irvington, was charged two weeks ago by officials in Hunterdon with first-degree strict liability for drug induced death. Prosecutors say Brown back in March went to a residence on Oak Grove Road in Raritan Township to sell heroin. His customer later died from a heroin overdose, officials said.

Contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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