Overdose Deaths Increase in New Jersey Even As Prescriptions Decline

By Kelly Burch 09/27/18

State Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal says that despite the fatal OD increase "there are reasons for hope."

doctor holding a prescription

Opioid overdose deaths in New Jersey increased by 24% last year, even as the number of prescriptions written for opioids fell for the first time in recent years. 

According to a press release from the state attorney general’s office, just over half of opioid overdose deaths in the state were caused by fentanyl and other synthetic opioids meant to mimic its strength. 

“We still lose too many of our residents to drug overdoses, and the death toll continues to rise,” said Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal. “But, if we look at the numbers, there are reasons for hope.”

Despite the fact that an average of eight New Jersey residents die from an opioid overdose each day, Grewal said that policies to limit prescriptions of opioids are working. The state’s opioid prescription rate peaked in 2015, when 5.64 million opioid prescriptions were dispensed.

By 2017, that number was down to 4.87 million, making last year the first “in recent memory when the number of opioid prescriptions fell below 5 million,” said the press release. 

In March 2017, the state enacted a five-day limit on first-time opioid prescriptions. Since then, prescriptions of opioids have decreased 26%.

Between January 2014 and March 2017 they were reduced just 18%, so this suggests a significant improvement in cutting back on opioid prescriptions. Overall, opioid prescriptions have been reduced by 39% between January 2014 and July of this year.

"The decreasing rate of prescription opioids dispensed in New Jersey shows that a smart approach to the opioid epidemic can help turn the tide. If we persist in our efforts to prevent addiction and overdoses, we can save lives,” said Sharon Joyce, director of the Office of the New Jersey Coordinator for Addiction Responses and Enforcement Strategies (NJ CARES).

In order to try and decrease the opioid overdose rate, the state will begin offering more information online, including data on naloxone administration rates and overdose rates for specific counties. 

“The Attorney General is not only making his Department’s opioids data publicly available,” the press release said. “Through NJ CARES, the Department is relying on data to target its education efforts and identify its enforcement priorities.”

The administration is also focusing on outreach efforts, including an ad campaign to highlight a safe disposal program for unused prescriptions.

And the musical Anytown will be performing at middle and high schools across the state to raise awareness about the dangers of opioids. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.