NJ Drug Overdose Deaths In 2018 On A Record-Shattering Pace

The list keeps growing.

The flu. Alzheimer's disease. Breast cancer. Colon cancer. Cervical cancer. Prostate cancer cancer. Homicide, suicide and car accidents combined.

The opioid crisis is likely to kill more people than each of these in 2018. 

Drug deaths are on pace to become the sixth-leading cause of death in New Jersey, with a jaw-dropping 765 suspected deaths already recorded in 2018, according to new state data.

"We're on pace to far surpass the figures from 2016 and 2017," said Gurbir Grewal, the state attorney general. "It shows we can't be complacent."

The data, published by the New Jersey Attorney General's Office as part of a new initiative called NJ CARES, shows that the state has the very real possibility of eclipsing 3,000 drug deaths in 2018, which would set a record for the third-straight year.

The rise is almost entirely blamed on the opioid crisis, which accounted for more than 85 percent of drug-related deaths in 2016. Every county in the state has recorded at least a half dozen deaths so far this year. 

Previously, data on drug deaths typically lagged between 12 and 18 months. Grewal has directed law enforcement officials around the state to report suspected drug overdose deaths to the state, where they are now vetted and published in near-real time.  

"Data can sometimes tell the story better than we can," said Grewal, who was previously the Bergen County prosecutor. "Sometimes when I'd show statistics to parents in Bergen, it would show them that this is something that is in their backyard.

"It helps force the conversation and draws the stigma from it." 

The state's effort is part of a broader intiative Grewal has started, through which he hopes to marry officials from the Department of Law and Public Safety with those in other state agencies to better monitor and respond to the opioid crisis together.

Grewal said the efforts are part of a sea change in law enforcement, one that focuses on providing treatment to drug users rather than jail time. 

"I started hearing from police chiefs -- some on the job for 20, 30, 40 years -- 'we have to do something different. I'm tired of arresting the same individuals. I'm tired of reviving the same individuals. I'm worried I'm not going to make it in time next time,' " Grewal said. "It took some time, but I think (law enforcement) have all come to that conclusion. You can't just lock up this disease." 

Original Article