As the number of drug overdose deaths in Ocean County this year—including six in Manchester, the third-worst rate in the county—threaten to double from the number last year, the county prosecutor's office is using the upcoming International Overdose Awareness Day and stepped-up enforcement plans to combat the problem.
So far this year, there have been 83 drug overdose deaths in the county, compared to 53 in the entire year of 2012 in the county, according to the prosecutor's office.
"It's time to raise awareness statewide," said Al Della Fave, spokesman for the prosecutor's office.
A town-by-town breakdown of the overdose deaths show the largest number in Toms River, which had 18, but also has the largest population in the county.
The remainder of the town-by-town breakdown, from Jan. 1 through Aug. 20, is as follows:
Barnegat, 4; Beachwood, 6; Berkeley, 7; Brick, 11; Jackson, 4; Lacey, 5; Lakehurst, 1; Lakewood, 4; Little Egg Harbor, 1; Manahawkin, 1; Manchester, 6; Ocean Gate, 1; Plumsted, 2; Point Pleasant Beach, 1; Point Pleasant Borough, 2; Seaside Heights, 4; Seaside Park, 1; South Toms River, 1; Stafford, 2 and Waretown, 1.
“International Overdose Awareness Day is held on August 31st each year," said Ocean County Freeholder Gerry P. Little, Liaison to the Ocean County Board of Health, in a prepared statement.
He continued, “This day is to commemorate those who have died or are suffering permanent injury as a result of a drug overdose; it also acknowledges the grief felt by their families and friends.
Daniel Regenye, Ocean County Health Department Public Health Coordinator, said, “Recognized around the world, International Overdose Awareness Day aims to raise awareness of drug overdose and reduce the stigma of a drug-related death, especially for those mourning the loss of family and friends. It also spreads the message that the tragedy of overdose death is preventable."
Joseph Coronato, Ocean County Prosecutor, said, “Every week the numbers rise in drug deaths in Ocean County. Presently, we have experienced 83 overdose deaths in 2013. There is a heroin use epidemic in Ocean County that strikes at the very heart of our families, friends, and communities. Stopping the plagues of addiction and the senseless deaths must be our priority.”
Coronato continued, “The Prosecutor’s Office is partnering with the county Health Department and other stakeholders in prevention, intervention and treatment to address this pressing issue. We need to look at every aspect of drug use and abuse; from the legal issues to the public health concerns to truly bring significant change.”
Regenye added, “Our Drug and Alcohol Counselor spends her entire working day on the phone with distraught parents on what they can do, what should they do and what can be done for their child. In our partnership with the Prosecutor’s Office and others, we are looking to address educating parents on signs of their child’s drug use or abuse.”
Coronato continued, “The greatest percent of our robberies in Ocean County are drug-related. We see youths and young adults stealing money to buy drugs or breaking into homes looking for drugs.
"Seaside Heights, Toms River, Lacey Township and Manchester Police Departments offer Rx drop-off boxes for residents to dispose of their unused or expired medications.
"The drop-boxes are located for convenience within the police station’s lobby. If you have no use for the drug, get rid of it and get rid of it safely by using one of the drop-off boxes.”
In order to provide the community with information and education the county Opiate Task Force has been formed. The task force brings together agencies to provide services to those in need of help for their addiction and those helping them in their addiction.
The Opiate Task Force kicks off their 365-day campaign against opiate and heroin abuse by offering a calendar of events for the community. Not only will there be events during the year, the Task Force will be reaching out to Ocean County residents who have been affected by drug abuse to share their experiences with the group.
Coronato and other officials from the prosecutor's office are planning to speak at numerous high school back-to-school nights and other community events to help educate parents about drug abuse in the county, Della Fave said, adding more details with dates and times will be announced.
He said increased enforcement will be used at local high schools, including using K-9 police dogs to help sniff out drugs on school grounds and surrounding areas.
Della Fave said often drug problems start with kids snagging prescription medications from their household medicine cabinets, but then can't afford to buy enough pills to feed their new habits.
"They find out they can get heroin for $5, a dealer gives them four free hits to start, and then they get hooked," Della Fave said, emphasizing this type of abuse is occuring in the county's suburbs as well as more urban areas.
As the Opiate Task force moves forward, information and events will be distributed throughout the county through the Task Force partners, which include the Ocean County Health Department, the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, Barnabas Health Institute for Prevention, Prevention First, Ocean Mental Health, Ocean County Department of Human Services, Preferred Behavioral Health, Seashore Family Services of New Jersey, the Lighthouse, and the Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse.