A testament to the strength of heroin’s grip on Ocean County – and the length to which officials are going to combat it – officials this week announced that the county’s Narcan program has reached local high schools.
Narcan, the trade name of naloxone, a substance that temporarily reverses an opiate overdose to allow a victim to be revived by first responders, has been deployed to police officers and EMTs since 2014. Ocean County, largely thanks to a push from Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato, was the first county whose responders carried the drug, which is now deployed statewide. The stocking of Narcan – administered through an inhaled device – in high schools comes as the county experienced a skyrocketing number of overdose deaths.
Coronato announced Thursday that high school nurses, athletic trainers and student assistance coordinators will be able to equip themselves with Narcan under a new program being sponsored by his office through a partnership with Adapt Pharma and Georgian Court University. Local school officials received training in the administration of the drug at the university campus this week and were given a free dose to take back to their workplaces.
All of the county’s school districts are participating in the program, officials said. School officials requested access to the drug out of concern not only for students, but members of the community in attendance at school events or anyone on campus who might be addicted.
Narcan is being expanded to high school campuses as the toll of addiction is more pronounced than ever in Ocean County. Despite the drug having been carried by police officers and EMTs all year, the county had tracked a record-breaking 180 overdose deaths by Monday of this week. A total of 445 people had been revived by Narcan. It is already guaranteed that 2016 will go down as the deadliest year since the epidemic of addiction began in earnest in 2012. That year, 53 people died of overdoses. In 2013, the number of deaths doubled to 112, before falling to 103 in 2014. Last year, there were 118 deaths.
Coronato said it is likely there will be about 200 deaths by the end of the year, many of which will have been traced to the presence of fentanyl – a powerful opiate pain relieve usually reserved for terminally ill patients – in heroin, as drug dealers seek to make their products more and more potent to win sales.
“Dealers who are relentless in their efforts to profit from the misery and deaths of others have now resorted to dealing deadly doses laced with powerful synthetic opiates in order to combat our initiatives and to increase their addictive grip on user,” Coronato said. “Law Enforcement cannot address this evil alone.”