With the opioid abuse epidemic continuing to spiral out of control in New Jersey, a growing number of users are dying from overdoses.

In 2016, the most recent year statistics are available, 2,221 Garden State residents died of drug related causes. The year before, the total was 1,587.

In response, the Legislature is expected to soon approve a measure that would create an involuntary commitment system for those hooked on drugs.

The measure would allow spouses, partners, relatives, friends and guardians to petition the courts to have someone forced into treatment even if they resist.

New Jersey has an involuntary commitment law for people suffering from mental illness but drug addiction is not covered under that statute.

The involuntary commitment legislation calls for a judge to review all petitions over the course of several different hearings and it would require medical and psychological experts to examine the individual being targeted for commitment.

Wayne resident Donna Andelora founded a group called Lost Angels Bereavement after her 22-year-old son Joey died of a heroin overdose in 2012.

She said she is strongly in favor of involuntary commitment because opioid addiction happens so quickly that people don’t even realize what’s going on.

“It’s like an octopus: It grabs a hold of you and it does not let go and the drug takes over the mind, the body. I say it steals your soul.”

Don Parker, the president and CEO of the Carrier Clinic in Somerset County, said involuntary commitment is used in 35 states  “and so far it’s showing very positive results.”

“I wouldn’t say it needs to be used on all people at all times, but it’s one of many different ways that you can address a problem like this," he said.

He pointed out getting someone to stop using an opioid drug can be extremely difficult.

“It’s so unpleasant in many cases that you often need to be prodded and in many cases restrained to the point that you get through this period. When I say restrained I’m talking about confined in an area.”

He said in some cases involuntary commitment can be a lifesaving option because when people become addicts they may lose the actual ability to make rational decisions.

“You are left with diminished capacity, which leaves you vulnerable to relapse.”

Parker said there are a variety of innovations in the treatment of substance abuse “but you’ve got to stay in one location to get that process done. The commitment process allows that to occur.”

He said going through detox and rehab can be the most challenging kind of experience imaginable.

“You have to find some way of creating additional motivation, and the commitment process is that kind of motivation.”

He said legal court hearings are held on a regular basis within the Carrier facility “for anybody who’s been committed to us. public defenders will represent patients and that whole process is a way to balance out the individual liberties that are sometimes strained.”

Andelora said when her son became a heroin addict, “there was a glaze in his eyes, he was somebody we didn’t know. Addiction takes over, they lose all ability to think rationally. All they know is they need to get high.”

Andelora had her son involuntarily committed in the state of Florida, where after going through extensive rehab he was clean for two years before relapsing and eventually overdosing.

She said if she had not done this, her son would have died years earlier.

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

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