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Union County Forum Examines Opioid Crisis

Ang Santos

The Office of the New Jersey Medical Examiner says there were more than 2,000 drug related deaths in New Jersey last year.  A majority related to drugs like heroin and its stronger synthetic counterpart fentanyl.  Dr. Andrew Kaufman with the University Hospital Comprehensive Pain Center in Newark says the state’s northern counties have had better success dealing with overdose.

“If you look at issues per county, in terms of overdose rates per 100,000 people, Union County has twelve deaths per 100,000 in the last reported data.  These southern counties are much worse for whatever reason.  Salem county is twenty-nine deaths, Cape May is twenty-five per 100,000.  Atlantic County is twenty-three per 100,000.  Essex County is just fourteen per hundred thousand,” Kaufman said.

But Union County Acting Prosecutor Tim Isenhour says the number of overdoes fatalities in north jersey is rising.

“Unfortunately, we are catching up in 2015 in Union County we had sixty-four overdoses.  That was actually a significant increase at that period of time in the years preceding.  This year in just the short span of three years, we have doubled that rate.”

Isenhour says the rate of accidental overdose deaths have sometimes tripled the number of homicides in Union County in recent years.

“If the murder rate was to go up like that, you would be up in arms and you should be.  We wouldn’t be doing our jobs.  In this particular area, it’s looked at as more of a health issue and people aren’t taking it as seriously.”

Union County Sheriff and State-Senator Elect Joe Cryan alongside County Freeholders created Community Law Enforcement Addiction Recovery, the CLEAR program, designed to allow willing participants access to help.

“Work with the individual and assess treatment.  For those that are assessed with the idea that they may need a twenty-eight-day recovery and a bed, we have a partnership with two areas.  Turning Point in Paterson and with New Hope in Marlboro.  We’re able to, based on federal government resources and how that works, able to provide a bed, sometimes that day, sometimes soon afterwards, where there’s the opportunity for that individual to go into recovery.

For some that struggle with addiction, those 28 days are just the beginning.

“I get out of a twenty-eight day program and they say see you later.”

Mariel Hufnagel is a former addict.  Clean from drugs and alcohol for ten years, she’s the Executive Director at The Ammon Foundation.  They support those in addiction recovery seeking to continue their education.

“Stable employment, safe housing, adequate health care.  These are the things we don’t have people, young, old, white, black, whatever, in early recovery set up to be successful.”

Hufnagel says the opioid crisis has evolved significantly into a nationwide relapse problem.