TRENTON — Eight people die of a drug overdose in New Jersey every single day. For the first time in our state’s history, drug overdose deaths within a calendar year topped 3,000. Figures from the New Jersey Attorney General’s office put the number at 3,163 for 2018. Deaths surged 15 percent last year after falling the year before.

The reasons for the change are many. The influx of the synthetic opioid fentanyl is one major factor. It is so potent that the first use is often fatal. Fentanyl also does not respond well to the anti-overdose medication Narcan. There are also many who believe efforts to get help to addicts continue to fall short.

A 2018 report from the New Jersey Reentry Corporation detailed multiple problems with the way New Jersey provides treatment. Typically, an addict goes through a 28-day detox followed by three months of outpatient treatment. Given the highly addictive nature of opioids, especially heroin, the report says that is not nearly long enough. Ninety percent of those who go through that model relapse.

Many who have died from an overdose have gone through at least one stint in rehab. That report detailed several steps other states have taken to reduce their overdose death rates, but so far, those recommendations have seen little action by state lawmakers.

There is, however, some reason for hope. By the end of 2018, overdose death rates were starting to fall in New Jersey. Doctors have been prescribing fewer opioids, lessening the chance for abuse. The Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey has been educating families and doctors about the strong links between opioids and addiction. The Horizon Foundation will soon begin offering continuing education credit courses to doctors and other healthcare professionals so they fully understand the impact of their prescribing practices.

The experts say these are positive steps, to be sure, but New Jersey needs to be doing much more to help the addict who wants to get clean. Too many barriers, they say, remain to finding a treatment facility willing and able to provide the comprehensive care needed to break the cycle of addiction. Their challenge is to get the legislature and Gov. Phil Murphy to pay attention at a time when their attention is focused on other issues.

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