New Jersey's overdose death rate was 17% higher in the first half of 2020 compared to the first six months of 2019, according to data from the state Attorney General's Office. Overdose deaths through July 31 stand at 1,834.

As part of an effort to combat the ongoing opioid crisis in New Jersey, state Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson announced that naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, the opioid overdose reversal drug, will be offered to residents free of charge starting Sept. 24 through Sept. 26.

Johnson said 322 participating pharmacies and grocery stores throughout the state are taking part in the giveaway including several locations of Acme, CVS, Rite Aid, Sav-On, ShopRite, Stop & Shop, Walgreens and Walmart. No appointment, no prescription and no name are necessary.

Each naloxone pack contains two doses. Only one per pack is permitted per person and it's on a first-come, first-served basis.

This is the second year for the free naloxone giveaway. Last year, Johnson said it was a one-day giveaway where 32,000 doses of Narcan were given out for free.

Because of the pandemic, Johnson said the state wanted to make sure there were more days available for the giveaway, including one day on the weekend. They wanted to make sure they had as many pharmacies and grocery stores they could get so accessibility was easier.

Over the last year, the state has distributed about 80,000 doses of Narcan to EMS, police officers, libraries and homeless shelters. Johnson said the goal is to get this tool into as many hands as possible so more lives can be saved and the state can get more residents on the path to recovery.

The opioid epidemic remains a significant concern in New Jersey. In light of the pandemic, she said the Murphy administration is aware that residents have had a hard time with maintaining social networks, support and connections to their medical services. It's also especially tough for those suffering with addiction to stay connected with their peer support and counselors.

"We've made policy changes to support that by promoting telehealth, by supporting our mental health and substance use providers. But it remains a challenge, one that we're dedicated to continue to focus on. This naloxone giveaway is part of our ongoing effort to combat the epidemic," Johnson said.

Anyone who picks up free naloxone over these three days will also be given information regarding the state's addiction treatment helpline. 1-844-REACHNJ is a 24-hour, seven-day addiction helpline where people facing addiction or their friends and family can get immediate assistance from live addiction counselors.

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