New Jersey's Heroin Overdose Rate Triple That of Soaring U.S. Rates

By McCarton Ackerman 07/09/15

The CDC revealed heroin overdoses have exploded nationwide, but nowhere is it worse than in the Garden State.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced this week that the rate of heroin overdose deaths has nearly tripled since 2010, but separate findings show that the situation is even more dire in New Jersey.

An analysis also released this week by NJ Advance Media shows that New Jersey’s heroin overdose rates are more than triple the already soaring rates reported by the CDC. These tragedies have now eclipsed suicide, car accidents, AIDS, and homicide as a leading cause of death in the state.

There were 714 heroin-related deaths throughout New Jersey in 2013, or 8.3 per 100,000 people, and 781 in 2014, compared to the national average of 2.6 per 100,000 people. The state Department of Health showed that more people died from heroin in Camden and Atlantic counties than pneumonia and the flu combined.

Data from the state medical examiner also shows treatment practitioners reporting that their beds are almost always constantly full. Mike Karl, chief operating officer at Summit Behavioral Health, said that up to 80% of his beds are filled with opiate users and many of these patients are under 30.

"We have a perfect storm of accessibility, affordability and acceptability," said Bob Baxter, former director of the needle exchange program in Newark. "There's still this reaction among families of 'how could this happen?' Heroin addicts are still viewed as these outliers in society. They're not."

Part of this increase had to do with the increased accessibility and affordability of heroin when compared to prescription drugs. A bag of heroin can cost between $4-6, while prescription drugs sold on the street are six times as much. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the CDC noted that prescription drug users are 40 times more likely to use heroin than others.

But state officials have taken action to try and address the growing crisis. State Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-19) has introduced 21 bills to improve substance abuse education, treatment, and prevention methods throughout the state. Most of these bills have passed and the few which haven’t still rest on the desk of long shot presidential candidate Gov. Chris Christie.

Christie has also taken action on the issue and made it a priority of his administration. He launched a state-by-state treatment hotline earlier this month, gave law enforcement access to naloxone starting last year, and has pushed millions of dollars towards developing jail re-entry programs in five counties.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.