NOTE: This is Part 1 of a four-part series this week, on Battling Addiction.


The opioid abuse epidemic continues to rage in New Jersey but there are hopeful signs the Garden State may finally be starting to turn the corner to recovery.

Between 2014 and 2018, the annual number of confirmed drug overdose deaths in New Jersey, mostly involving opioids skyrocketed, rising more than 139%

However, for the first seven months of 2019, the number of suspected drug overdose deaths totaled 1,633, an average of about 233 a month. That means if the trend holds through the end of the year, the overdose-death total in New Jersey will drop from last year.

Source: NJ Attorney General's Office

State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal believes there are many reasons why we are finally beginning to make headway in fight against opioid abuse and overdose death.

Awareness about the potential dangers of prescription painkillers has been increasing in the medical community, and the annual number of opioid pain prescriptions written in New Jersey has been dropping since 2015.

“That’s also helped, and also to have informed consent to make them talk to their patients about options to opioids. We’ve taken away the license of those doctors who are monetizing their prescription pads, so I think that’s also sent a deterrent message out there," Grewal said.

“This is going to be a constant, constant battle because we will never have a society where we don’t have painkillers, where we don’t have opioids. We have to be vigilant; we can never get complacent.”

Source: NJ Department of Health

In addition to stepping up law enforcement efforts to stop drug mills, distributors, dealers, ruthless profit-driven drug companies and doctors from improperly pushing and distributing opioid painkillers and heroin, the state is focused more than ever on treatment and prevention.

“Prevention is getting the message out to the high school students, to the next generation of young people about the dangers of these opioids and the paths to addiction," Grewal said.

"Treatment means diverting folks who are in the system to treatment options instead of staying in the criminal justice system. Treatment also means giving our cops Narcan to keep people alive long enough so they can get the help they need," he said.

“It’s not a criminal justice issue alone; it’s a public health crisis,” he said. “To break the cycle of addiction for those folks being arrested, being revived with Narcan, we’ve started working with our public health partners.”

Grewal explained that once someone is taken into custody or rushed to the ER, “we deploy someone who is a treatment professional, a recovery specialist, along with the law enforcement officer to talk about treatment options. The more touch points to treatment that we can incorporate into the system the better.”

He noted police officers will also offer treatment option information to those individuals being arrested for simple drug offenses.

Thousands of deaths

From 2011 to 2017, the most recent year for which confirmed totals are available, more than 10,500 people in New Jersey have died from drug overdoses.

Below are the New Jersey municipalities with the highest death rates, that is, the most deaths for every 1,000 residents. Scroll to the end of the story to look at an interactive map of the state's death rates.

Seaside Heights Borough
Total deaths: 27 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 9.4
West Wildwood Borough
Total deaths: 4 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 6.6
Gloucester City
Total deaths: 72 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 6.3
Wrightstown Borough
Total deaths: 5 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 6.2
Pemberton Borough
Total deaths: 8 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 5.7
Loch Arbour Village
Total deaths: 1 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 5.2
Beverly City
Total deaths: 13 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 5.
Keansburg Borough
Total deaths: 48 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 4.8
Brooklawn Borough
Total deaths: 9 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 4.6
Washington Township (Burlington)
Total deaths: 3 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 4.4
Berlin Township
Total deaths: 23 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 4.3
Westville Borough
Total deaths: 18 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 4.2
Wildwood City
Total deaths: 22 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 4.1
National Park Borough
Total deaths: 12 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 4.
Audubon Park Borough
Total deaths: 4 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 3.9
Pine Hill Borough
Total deaths: 39 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 3.8
Clementon Borough
Total deaths: 19 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 3.8
Seaside Park Borough
Total deaths: 6 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 3.8
Mount Holly Township
Total deaths: 36 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 3.8
Farmingdale Borough
Total deaths: 5 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 3.8
Sussex Borough
Total deaths: 8 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 3.8
Magnolia Borough
Total deaths: 16 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 3.7
South Toms River Borough
Total deaths: 13 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 3.5
Hi-Nella Borough
Total deaths: 3 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 3.4
Bloomsbury Borough
Total deaths: 3 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 3.4
Mount Ephraim Borough
Total deaths: 16 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 3.4
Netcong Borough
Total deaths: 11 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 3.4
Andover Borough
Total deaths: 2 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 3.3
Ventnor City
Total deaths: 35 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 3.3
Bradley Beach Borough
Total deaths: 14 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 3.3
Somerdale Borough
Total deaths: 16 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 3.1
Bay Head Borough
Total deaths: 3 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 3.1
Gibbsboro Borough
Total deaths: 7 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 3.1
Egg Harbor City
Total deaths: 13 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 3.1
Belvidere Town
Total deaths: 8 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 3.
Ocean Gate Borough
Total deaths: 6 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 3.
Franklin Borough
Total deaths: 15 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 3.
Atlantic City
Total deaths: 117 — Deaths per 1,000 residents: 3.

Angelo Valente, the executive director of the Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey, said progress is being made on multiple fronts, but this is not a time to celebrate.

“One life lost is one too many to this epidemic, so we still have a long way to go.”

Valente said we have seen a “full-court focus” from law enforcement, the medical community and government on the opioid epidemic for the last several years but “we can’t in any way let down our guard of a number or a statistic moving in the right direction.”

More From WOBM News: