Drug Overdoses on the Rise

By Briana Vannozzi

“It started with marijuana, basically progressed to prescription pills. Eventually I couldn’t afford that habit so I switched to heroin,” said Mike Kuchar, alumni of Rescue Mission of Trenton.

Every addiction has a story. Kuchar’s is one that reflects a national trend.

“It took me to places that I never thought I would be. I used intravenously, I overdosed and died. Narcan saved my life. Immediately after they saved my life, I went and used again,” he said.

Drug overdoses have become the leading cause of injury in New Jersey and 36 other states around the nation. Fatalities caused by an overdose have more than doubled in the last 14 years, according to a new health report.

Nationally there are 120 drug overdose fatalities a day and 6,700 ER visits for the misuse or abuse of drugs. In 2014, New Jersey experienced 1,310 deaths from opiates and prescription drugs.

“True, we’ve saved lives. There’s no question about that. But I think the epidemic we’re in the midst of is just expanding and spreading,” said Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato.

Coronato believes the overdose antidote Narcan is giving a sense of false hope.

“It makes you feel as if we’re controlling the situation when I think really what we’re doing is not really controlling the ultimate epidemic,” Coronato said.

Police officers in Ocean County were the first in the state to carry and administer the drug, which temporarily reverses the effects of a narcotics overdose. Since Narcan’s approval in 2014, they’ve seen a drop in fatalities — from 112 in 2013 down to 102 in the following year and and 48 as of today.

But he also explains that police have nearly doubled their use deploying the medication.

In 2014 they made 129 “saves.” They’ve already made 138 for the first six months of this year. So Coronato is looking to make another first.

“We broke it down into three stages — how they’re treated in a hospital, getting them into a detox facility and then ultimately the treatment phase which is learning how to treat the addiction,” Coronato said.

His program is called Narcan Two and it’s the first of it’s kind in the state.

“They’re gonna be treated differently in the emergency room. We need to have an interventionist actually go in the hospital and then we need to have once that person as agreed to do it, then we need to take them into a detox facility right then and there otherwise it’s a missed opportunity,” he said.

Because he understands not everyone’s addiction story follows that of Kuchar.

“I speak to my family daily. Everything is going well. I just saw my sister graduate from college which is a beautiful thing because I could have been in prison,” Kuchar said.

Coronato says it doesn’t end with a dose of Narcan. That’s just the beginning.