TRENTON – Delivering a keynote address today at an opioids symposium hosted by the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal unveiled new data on the opioid epidemic’s impact on New Jersey and on the State’s ongoing effort to save residents from opioid addiction, overdose, and death.
The new information—released today by the Department of Law & Public Safety and its Office of the New Jersey Coordinator for Addiction Responses and Enforcement Strategies (NJ CARES)—shows that the number of drug overdose deaths in New Jersey has continued to rise even as the number of opioid prescriptions processed has dropped dramatically.
“In the Murphy Administration, we are committed to being transparent and educating the public about the costs that the opioid epidemic has imposed on our State,” said Attorney General Grewal. “We still lose too many of our residents to drug overdoses, and the death toll continues to rise. But, if we look at the numbers, there are reasons for hope.”
NJ CARES Director Sharon Joyce added: “The decreasing rate of prescription opioids dispensed in New Jersey shows that a smart approach to the opioid epidemic can help turn the tide. If we persist in our efforts to prevent addiction and overdoses, we can save lives.”
According to new preliminary data from the Office of the Chief State Medical Examiner, New Jersey saw 2,750 drug overdose fatalities in 2017—approaching eight per day on average. That number represents an increase of approximately 24 percent over the 2016 death toll of 2,221 drug overdose deaths (approximately 6 per day).
The number and percentage of overdose deaths involving fentanyl and fentanyl analogues were up in 2017 compared to the prior year. According to the preliminary data, fentanyl and fentanyl analogues were implicated in 1,379 overdose deaths in 2017—slightly over 50 percent of all drug overdose deaths. In 2016, fentanyl was implicated in 818 deaths and fentanyl analogues in 164 deaths.
At the county level, the number of drug overdose deaths in 2017 ranged from 362 in Essex County and 308 in Camden County to 23 in Hunterdon County and 20 in Salem.
Meanwhile, the number and percentage of drug overdose deaths involving heroin was down from 2016 to 2017. Heroin was implicated in 1,132 overdose deaths in 2017—or 41 percent of the total—according to the preliminary numbers. In 2016, there were 1,347 overdose deaths involving heroin—or 61 percent of the total.
While the number of drug overdose deaths in New Jersey continued to increase in 2017, the amount of prescription opioid drugs dispensed in the State has fallen steadily. From a peak in 2015, when 5.64 million opioid prescriptions were dispensed in New Jersey, the number of opioid prescriptions was down to 4.87 million in 2017, making 2017 the first year in recent memory when the number of opioid prescriptions fell below 5 million.
Information released today by NJ CARES – based on data from the New Jersey Prescription Monitoring Program – shows a 39 percent decrease from January 2014 through July 2018 in the rate of Schedule II opioid prescriptions processed and dosage units dispensed. The most recent month for which data are available (July 2018) saw 210,153 Schedule II opioid prescriptions dispensed, totaling 13,427,783 dosage units. In January 2014, by contrast, there were 346,459 Schedule II opioid prescriptions dispensed, totaling 21,970,323 dosage units.
The decrease in opioid prescribing has accelerated since New Jersey adopted a mandatory five-day rule for initial opioid prescriptions in March 2017. The number of Schedule II opioid prescriptions dispensed has dropped by 26 percent since March 2017, after having fallen by only 18 percent from January 2014 to March 2017. Likewise, the number of Schedule II opioid dosage units dispensed has dropped by 28 percent since March 2017, after having fallen by only 15 percent from January 2014 to March 2017.
Starting today, the NJ CARES website also will include newly available historic data for each county in New Jersey. The new information includes the number of drug overdose deaths, naloxone administrations from law enforcement and EMTs, and opioid prescriptions per capita in each county from 2013 to 2017, to the extent such data is available.
Previously, the NJ CARES website reported total county-level drug overdose deaths, naloxone administrations, and opioid prescriptions. Taking county populations into account paints a different picture of the impact of the opioid epidemic in New Jersey.
In 2016, for example, the counties with the highest total numbers of overdose deaths were Essex (271), Ocean (253), Camden (200), Middlesex (182), and Atlantic (171). On a per capita basis, Atlantic County had the highest overdose death rate (with one death for every 1,584 residents), followed by Ocean (one death for every 2,344 residents), Camden (one death for every 2,554 residents), Cumberland (one death for every 2,904 residents), and Cape May (one death for every 2,935 residents). Statewide, the average was one drug overdose death for every 4,043 residents.
For 2017, Camden County had the highest rate of naloxone administrations reported by law enforcement and EMTs, with one for every 205 residents. Hunterdon County had the lowest rate of naloxone administrations, with one for every 1,624 residents. The statewide average was one naloxone administration reported for every 627 residents.
Statewide in 2017, there was one opioid prescription dispensed for every 1.85 people.
Cape May County saw the most opioid prescriptions dispensed for every resident, with one prescription for every 1.07 people. Hudson County fell at the other end of the spectrum, with one opioid prescription dispensed for every 2.74 people.
The Attorney General is not only making his Department’s opioids data publicly available. Through NJ CARES, the Department is relying on data to target its education efforts and identify its enforcement priorities.
The latest example of the Department’s data-driven approach is an advertising campaign by the Division of Consumer Affairs to promote Project Medicine Drop, a program that promotes safe storage and disposal of prescription medications at police department headquarters across the state. The month-long ad campaign, financed with $30,000 in federal grant funds, began appearing last week on buses in Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, and Ocean counties. The ads also appear inside light rail cars on NJ Transit’s River Line connecting Camden to Trenton. The Division selected the routes that would carry the Project Medicine Drop ads using data from the Prescription Monitoring Program, along with other information.
The Attorney General unveiled the new NJ CARES data on opioids at the Spotlight Conference on Opioid Abuse. Following the Attorney General’s remarks, conference attendees were treated to a premiere of Anytown, a new musical about the opioid crisis and its impact on teens and families, from the George Street Playhouse’s Educational Touring Theatre. The conference also included workshops on prevention, early intervention, and recovery. The musical and conference received funding from The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey and RWJBarnabas Health.
Following the premier, Anytown will tour middle and high schools across New Jersey to help raise awareness about the dangers of opioid abuse and to help prevent further opioid-related harms to teens and their families.
More detailed data on the opioid crisis and its impact in New Jersey is available on the website of NJCARES: www.njcares.gov.
Follow the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office online at Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flicker & YouTube. The social media links provided are for reference only. The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office does not endorse any non-governmental websites, companies or applications.