New Jersey’s Alarming Heroin Problem
The heroin epidemic is still raging across the United States. In fact, a recently released Center for Disease Control study found that heroin use has more than doubled in the last ten years.
And bad as the situation is across the country, it’s even worse in New Jersey.
According to multiple reports, the percentage of NJ residents using, and dying from, heroin is much higher than the national average. According to NJ Advance Media, the rate of fatalities due to heroin overdose in New Jersey is upwards of three times the national rate.
As if that wasn’t enough, heroin overdoses claim more lives than murder, suicide, car accidents, and AIDs. In Camden and Atlantic counties, overdoses are deadlier than the flu and pneumonia combined, according to NJ.com.
There were 741 heroin-related deaths in 2013 alone. That number rose to 781 in 2014. This breaks down to just over eight deaths per 100,000 residents. The national average for heroin-related deaths per 100,000 people is 2.6.
These numbers put New Jersey at almost four times the national rate of heroin overdose deaths.
It’s clear something needs to be done, but what? Well, before we can begin to implement a solution, we need to take a closer look at the problem itself.
Why is NJ Being Hit So Hard?
Despite being deadlier than the national average, New Jersey’s heroin problem isn’t that different than anywhere else. They’ve been hit hard because the demographics of heroin abuse and overdose are rapidly changing.
For decades the “traditional” heroin addict has been male, African-American, in his late 30s to 40s, and of lower socioeconomic status. That’s all changing. Today’s typical heroin addict is either a man or woman, in the 18 to 25 age bracket, and solidly middle-class.
While this shift’s been occurring, “traditional” heroin addicts continue to be seduced by the drug. This all culminates in today’s heroin crisis. Men and women, black and white, rich and poor, in cities and in suburbs – they’re all using and overdosing on heroin.
New Jersey is a perfect microcosm of this current epidemic. With demographics ranging from poor, inner-city individuals to affluent families in the suburbs, they just happen to have become ground zero for heroin abuse.
So, what’s the solution? How do we combat heroin addiction when it’s become so prevalent? How do we shut the door once it’s been opened? Well, various New Jersey politicians have already begun to implement some proactive measures.
What’s Being Done?
The newest laws, covered in detail here, were introduced by State Senator Joseph Vitale in 2014.
These include additional funding for state-sponsored addiction prevention, prescription drug monitoring programs, a dedicated opioid taskforce, and many more. A good start, to be sure, but what else is New Jersey doing?
Well, Gov. Christie has launched a few programs of his own. As of July 1st, he implemented a statewide treatment hotline. Anyone can call in, at any time of the day or night, and be connected to help.
Christie has also pushed for first-responders to have easier access to naloxone and for a post jail integration program. It remains to be seen how effective these will be and whether, in the case of his “jail re-entry program,” they’ll be executed at all.
Still, these are all major steps that New Jersey’s taking to curb its heroin problem. While their impact on day-to-day overdose deaths is still uncertain, one thing is for sure – Jersey is fighting back. I’d wager that, as one of the states hit hardest by heroin addiction, they’ll also be one of the first with a real solution.