TRENTON, NJ — Attorney General Gurbir Grewal joined Gov. Phil Murphy and other state officials on Jan. 8 for a round table community meeting to discuss strategies for fighting the opioid addiction epidemic and to announce preliminary year-end opioid statistics for 2019, which indicate that, for the first time since 2012, New Jersey held the line on drug-related deaths.
Preliminarily, figures indicate that there were approximately 3,021 suspected drug-related overdose deaths in 2019, which would represent a 3-percent reduction from the prior year. The slight dip in suspected overdose fatalities is the first the state has seen since it began tracking drug-related deaths in 2012.
“For the first time, we’re seeing numbers that appear to indicate we are holding the line in our fight to end the opioid crisis, and that’s encouraging,” Grewal said. “But experience tells us that addiction is a relentless disease and recovery is not a linear process. We cannot assume we have turned a corner in this battle. We must continue to attack the addiction crisis from all sides, using prevention, treatment and enforcement as means to defeat this deadly epidemic.”
According to Grewal, end-of-year statistics were encouraging for another key opioid indicator: the number of opioid prescriptions dispensed throughout the state. In 2019, 3,990,809 opioid prescriptions were processed statewide, a 6.5-percent decrease from the 4,266,645 prescriptions processed in 2018.
During the round table meeting, which was held at the Family Guidance Center of Warren County, Grewal highlighted addiction-fighting programs and initiatives undertaken by the Department of Law and Public Safety in 2019 that focused on prevention, enforcement, and treatment. This work was coordinated by the Office of the New Jersey Coordinator for Addiction Responses & Enforcement Strategies.
Under the supervision of the New Jersey State Police, the attorney general’s Opioid Enforcement Task Force dismantled 11 heroin mills in 2019, four of which were collectively linked to heroin stamps associated with 358 overdoses, including 133 fatalities.
The attorney general increased access to treatment by expanding Operation Helping Hand, a drug-diversion program that has linked more than 700 individuals to treatment or recovery sources. In 2019, OHH expanded to all 21 counties in New Jersey, funded in part through state and federal grants. In addition, the state launched around-the-clock “Opioid Response Teams” to provide addiction intervention services in five hard-hit municipalities: Newark, Camden, Paterson, Trenton and Toms River.
In 2019, the attorney general also continued his efforts to hold accountable those most responsible for fueling the opioid crisis, filing a civil lawsuit against eight members of the Sackler Family, owners of Purdue Pharma, which manufactures OxyContin and other prescription opioids blamed for the addiction epidemic. The lawsuit, which followed a 2017 suit against Purdue Pharma, sought to ensure that individuals — and not just corporate entities — would be held accountable for their role in the fueling the opioid crisis.
At the same time, the Attorney General’s Office worked to prevent the abuse and diversion of prescription opioids by taking action against doctors, pharmacists and other health practitioners who allegedly prescribed them without a sound medical basis. In all, 26 physicians saw their licenses revoked, suspended or otherwise restricted last year for allegedly allowing dangerously addictive drugs to flow unchecked into communities.