It is an epidemic that required more than 3,000 lives in New Jersey last year and another 500 in the first three months of this year.
And now state and federal officials say it is time to work together to fight the public health epidemic of our lifetime: the opioid crisis.
On Wednesday, law enforcement authorities, health experts and political leaders gathered at the summit to lift the opioids to find out how to work together to end the epidemic. The summit, led by the partnership for a drug-free New Jersey and Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield in New Jersey, started a number of 21
"This is the first time in 100 years, we have had two and three years of declining life expectancy," says Dr. Rita Noonan, Deputy Director of Non-Infectious Diseases at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "It's perspective. Drugs significantly affect our longevity in the United States." Most people in the state know someone who has been hit by the growing opioid problem.
"It's such a terrible disease, and there are no solutions that actually work today," says Suzanne Kunis, director of behavioral health for Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield NJ. "There are many services available, but the system is a bit broken. We must invest in making significant changes."
Health experts agreed that they could not "arrest their way out of the problem or" treat their way out "but had to break their silos to find ways to reach potential and current opioid addicts.
Federal law enforcement officials said they launched drug treatment programs and the nation's first opioid prevention and enforcement unit at the US Attorney's New Jersey office.
Dr. Noonan said the crisis began with doctors over-prescribing opioids around 2010. "It primarily primes our population to taste opioids," she said.
Then, the first major wave of heroin-related deaths began, heroin was inexpensive as the drug market exploited increasing demand. Overdose deaths are increasingly associated with synthetically produced opioids, such as fentanyl.
Noonan predicts a fourth wave of overdose deaths caused as fentanyl is increasingly mixed into the cocaine supply.
T homas Vincz, a state spokesman for Horizon, said the two-year program would include parental and research training programs and better focus on communities where the opioid epidemic is worse.
In 2018, 3,118 people died of drug overdose in the state, the majority of which were opioid-related. More than half involved fentanyl.
For more information and a list of town hall meetings, visit knockoutopioidabuse.drugfreenj.org.
Karen Yi can be reached at email@example.com ]. Follow her on Twitter at @karen_yi or on Facebook . Get the latest updates right in your inbox. Subscribe to NJ.com's newsletters.