More people are killed in Monmouth County by heroin overdoses than by murder and highway accidents- combined.
Monmouth and Ocean counties, and Camden, have the highest rate of heroin-related deaths and a special forum on the subject was held April 27 in the High Ocean Township High School auditorium.
“This is a very, very serious problem, particularly in Monmouth County,” said Sen. Jennifer Beck, who hosted the forum.
“Young people can become so addicted in such a short period of time and unable to get away from it- it’s unprecedented. It really sets you on your heels to hear about this challenge,” she said.
Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni said opiate addiction is not uncommon in the county.
“It’s in our neighborhoods and we all know somebody affected with heroin or opiate abuse. And it can be an innocent passage,” he said.
“Little Pill, Big Problem” was a term Gramiccioni said best describes the problem of opiate addiction in the United States.
“Innocent and decent people are prescribed opiates and it can lead to both psychological and physical addictions. And when the prescription drugs run dry that causes them to start finding other drugs that are cheap and readily available,” he said.
He said that a 15-year spike in opiate addiction coincides with the same spike in doctors writing opiate prescriptions. Ten percent of the one million New Jersey residents has some sort of opiate addiction.
“It’s a perfect storm situation,” he said.
In 2014, overdose deaths in Monmouth County increased by 24 percent among 18 to 25 year-olds.
“And that’s a scary state,” Gramiccioni said.
There were 107 heroin overdoses compared with 47 murders and 9 highway deaths in the state that year.
“The death rate is much more than by murder or accidents- combined. Heroin is what is killing our people here,” he said.
Monmouth County can also claim to have some of the purest cocaine around, usually over 50 percent pure and up to 95 percent pure.
“Monmouth County has some of the purest. Plus users smoke it or snort it now which makes it easy to hide,” he said.
On the flip side, Gramiccioni said the state’s 2013 Overdose Prevention Act has made it easier to treat overdoses- a measure supported by Sen. Beck. The act gives immunity to anyone seeking help for an overdose victim.
Beck said the recent use of Narcan and Naloxone has saved close to 600 lives in Monmouth and Ocean counties
“Without this on the front line we would have lost a lot of other people,” she said.
Ocean Township Schools Superintendent James Stefankiewicz said the topic “is way too important not to have this event.”
“This is a really important message and we need to get it out. People going through addiction should not have to face it alone,” he said.
Other forum panelists agreed that schools are a good starting point for this discussion. Representatives from various social agencies had tables in the hallway.