TRENTON, NJ--With more than 3,000 New Jersey residents expected to die from a drug overdose this year, the state is changing the way it treats opioid addiction, Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal said in commemorating International Overdose Awareness Day (Aug. 31).
“For 17 years, International Overdose Awareness Day has been set aside to raise awareness about the dangers of opioids, and yet the epidemic continues to skyrocket,” Commissioner Elnahal said. “We are changing the paradigm in addiction treatment. Addiction is a disease, but it does not have to be a fatal one.”
The Commissioner also noted that Overdose Awareness Day falls just one day before the beginning of Recovery Month, which is commemorated nationwide every September. Gov. Phil Murphy issued a proclamation declaring Aug. 31 as Overdose Awareness Day.
“We honor all of those who lost their lives to drugs, and this weekend, at the beginning of Recovery Month, we recommit ourselves - as we do every day - to helping people get the treatment they need to survive this disease,” Commissioner Elnahal said.
The Murphy administration’s focus on the expansion of programs that use medication to treat people addicted to heroin is resulting in fewer of those people dying from overdoses, Commissioner Elnahal said, noting that he has talked to patients and former inmates who told him Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) programs have saved and changed their lives.
Medication – like methadone and suboxone – has been shown to decrease cravings and relapses and increase the chances of recovery, but the general public as well as some treatment providers and clinicians need to be more aware of its proven benefits, Commissioner Elnahal said.
“We must fight the damaging stigma associated with Medication Assisted Treatment,” he said. “No one would ask a diabetic why they take insulin or how soon they’re going to go off it.”
The state’s seven syringe access programs are also key strategies in preventing opioid overdoses. In addition to providing clean syringes, these programs use a harm reduction approach with clients, providing education on safe injection practices and how to test opioids for the presence of fentanyl – a primary driver of opioid overdose deaths.
The Murphy administration also has brought together officials from the Attorney General’s Office and the departments of Corrections, Education, Human Services, Children and Families and Labor to collaborate on initiatives aimed at reducing overdoses and stemming the tide of the epidemic.
“All over the world, August 31 has been a day to remember people who died from an overdose and recognize the pain of the family and friends they left behind,” said Commissioner Elnahal. “We are all saddened when famous people die of an overdose, but our neighbors, friends and relatives are feeling devastating grief every day as their loved ones are taken by this disease. They deserve nothing less than our best efforts to keep it from happening again and again.”
Click here for information about Overdose Awareness Day events in New Jersey.