Statewide Candlelight Vigil to Launch Call to Action on NJ’s Opiate Epidemic

New Jersey continues to be in the grip of the national prescription drug and heroin epidemic. In recognition of the people, families, and loved ones affected, and to honor of the lives taken by addiction a Candlelight Vigil - Call to Action will be hosted by Gov. Chris Christie next Wednesday, December 21st beginning at 4pm on the steps of the Statehouse. All are welcome to attend this significant vigil by following the steps detailed in the Governor’s invitation.

Last year over 900 NJ families lost a loved one to the prescription drug and opiate epidemic as reported today by the Star Ledger. Now more than ever we need to reenergize our efforts to challenge and engage all stakeholders. With the leadership of NJ’s prevention and treatment communities parents, educators, law enforcement, medical professionals, and our government leaders need to take any and all steps necessary to reverse these extremely alarming trends and save the lives of our neighbors, families, and friends. 

 

from nj.com:

N.J. heroin death rate was 2.5 times the skyrocketing U.S. rate in 2015

 
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A woman prepares to administer heroin to a man intravenously in Irvington in the parking lot of a White Castle restaurant in October. (Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)
Stephen Stirling | NJ Advance Media for NJ.comBy Stephen Stirling | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com 
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on December 14, 2016 at 8:19 AM, updated December 14, 2016 at 8:20 AM
 
 
 

Frank Greenagel recently started researching veterinary drugs. He didn't do it out of curiosity. He did it out of need. 

"I started to research these other drugs because I started to see that everything is on the table now," said Greenagel, an instructor at the Center for Alcohol Studies at Rutgers University. 

Greenagel's comments came after new data showed New Jersey's opioid crisis has only deepened and expanded, killing at least 918 in 2015. More alarming is that its chemical cousin, the ultra-potent fentanyl, was implicated in more than 400 deaths after being responsible for just 46 two years before.  

In the Midwest, scores have died after using carfentanil, an elephant tranquilizer so powerful a snowflake's worth could be lethal. Greenagel is researching in a frantic effort to stay ahead of what could be next.

Data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show New Jersey is setting a grim pace -- the rate at which heroin and fentanyl are killing in the Garden State far outpaces the national average, though those figures are soaring themselves. 

"If you weren't prepared for it, these are extraordinarily frustrating figures," Greenagel said. "The reality is that it's going to get worse before it gets better."

New Jersey no longer has an opioid crisis. It has several.

 

"I was introduced to fentanyl by a student seven years ago. Back then it was sort of an 'advanced-placement drug,' You had to be well along in addiction to be using it.  Now it's common,"  he said.

The introduction of fentanyl, and potentially other, illicit opioids has complicated was was already a puzzling fight for New Jersey.  Fentanyl, which is up to 50 times as powerful as heroin, is often used as a lacing agent in heroin unbeknownst to the user. 

Heroin killed more than 10 out of every 100,000 people in New Jersey last year, compared to slightly more than 4 in the rest of the country. Fentanyl killed 4.6, a little less than double the national average, according to CDC data. 

"That's why I've started talking to (veterinarians)," Greenagel said. "When I talk to students I often talk about it as whack-a-mole. You adjust, they adjust. Every year, drug dealers, users and suppliers are getting smarter and changing things. We just have to keep up ... There's a frustration and an exhaustion factor." 

Last year, an NJ Advance Media investigation revealed there were least 128,000 people actively using heroin in New Jersey, a figure that has undoubtedly grown.

State Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), who led the charge in introducing nearly two dozen pieces of legislation targeting the opioid crisis in recent years, said he is shocked but undaunted. 

"Look, these are frightening numbers. They're not discouraging but they're frightening," he said. "I think it shows we need a more coordinated effort. That's not to say anyone that's fighting this is doing a bad job -- everyone is doing the right thing -- but I think we're not coordinated as we could be." 

Greenagel echoed this and said he believes the state government should appoint a person who's sole task is corralling efforts to battle the spread of opioid abuse in the state. 

"We really need one person coordinating things because right now the system is very fractured," he said. 

Vitale said he plans to convene a panel of experts early next year to the next steps the legislature could potentially take. 

Greenagel said, if nothing else, the conversation of how to slow or halt the growing wave of drug addiction in New Jersey must continue.

"I just don't want people to give up and wash their hands of it," he said. "We can't let this be a facet of everyday life."

 

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