Fueled by an opioid abuse epidemic that has continued to spiral out of control, New Jersey’s drug overdose death rate has continued to soar for years.

But as we near the end of 2019, because of a wide range on-going efforts on multiple fronts, drug deaths in the Garden State may finally have peaked.

While there is significant reason for optimism in New Jersey’s war on opioid abuse, it is tempered with the realization that this problem may never really end.

According to state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, because of an “all hands on deck” renewed focus on prevention, treatment and enforcement, cracking down on heroin mills while expanding treatment opportunities, making Narcan more available and decreasing the number of painkiller prescriptions being written, we may finally be starting to turn the corner on the opioid epidemic.

He said the NJCARES website has been posting continually updated data on drug overdose deaths, naloxone administrations and opioid prescriptions.

“I think it helps fuel the conversation around this epidemic, and that’s important to draw the stigma away," Grewal said about the public data.

Source: NJ Attorney General's Office
Source: NJ Attorney General's Office

Grewal noted Operation Helping Hand, a program he launched in Bergen County when he was prosecutor there, has now been expanded to every county in New Jersey. The program allows cops to offer low-level offenders the option to seek treatment.  He said the program has helped to get more users into treatment, helping to break the cycle of addiction.

Grewal believes all of these combined efforts are helping to save lives but opioid abuse will continue to be an issue because prescription painkillers are not going away.

“They are needed by folks who are suffering from chronic pain, they are needed sometimes for acute pain, but not in the quantities that are being prescribed. They will always be there and because heroin will always be there, the chance for people being addicted to these drugs will always be there," Grewal said.

Angelo Valente, the executive director of the Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey said it is gratifying to see there is expanded awareness about the potential dangers of opioids and the overdose death total may finally be trending downward but we can’t let down our guard “as a result of perhaps a number or a statistic moving in the right direction.”

Valente added prevention efforts must continue full force “because I think we are still losing too many lives on a daily basis.”

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

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