GOP Gov. Chris Christie declared the opioid epidemic a public health crisis in New Jersey, which has a death rate from heroin double the national rate.
Christie signed an executive order Tuesday, which will free additional resources to fight addiction in the state. There are roughly 128,000 heroin addicts in New Jersey and health experts fear that number is likely growing. The executive order creates an eight-member task force to establish new ways to combat the growing health crisis. The order also directs the attorney general limit the number of first time opioid prescriptions doctors write and set guidelines making it more difficult to “doctor shop” for refills, reports NJ.com.
Christie said he plans to expand the Recovery Coach Program during his State of the State address Jan. 10 and increase reimbursements to make addiction treatment more accessible and affordable. Heroin deaths spiked 22 percent between 2014 and 2015 in the state and doubled the national drug overdose death rate with 1600 fatalities in 2015.
“There’s going to be lots of different pieces to try and solve this problem,” Christie said Tuesday, according to NJ.com. “It’s a disease; we’re doing this because it could be anybody.”
The executive order was signed at Integrity House, a substance abuse center, where he spoke with recovering addicts and listened to their stories. Many of the people in attendance praised Christie for taking the time to personally speak to those suffering from opioid addiction, even if they disagreed with the governor politically.
“I support that he has New Jersey citizens’ best interest at heart,” Carlos P., a 26 year old recovering addict, told NJ.com.
Despite the efforts of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle the heroin crisis is expected to intensify in severity in the coming years. Ocean County in particular is consumed by heroin overdose fatalities, which may eclipse 200 in 2016, though the numbers are not yet final. That would be roughly one heroin death every 43 hours.
“The unfortunate part is that I think the reality is that probably within the next year to two years that you’re going to see the death rate either double or triple from our current standards,” Joseph Coronato, an Ocean County prosecutor, told NJ.com. “We need to really make a determination as to why are our numbers here in Ocean County continue to spiral out of control.”
Authorities note that no one is safe from the opioid epidemic, since the addiction plagues all races, ages and communities, regardless of income. Officials in Ocean County said overdoses are observed with people ranging from ages 12 to 72.
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