NJ CARES will help state fight opioid epidemic more efficiently

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced a new state office in his department that will better organize the fight against New Jersey’s still-raging opioid epidemic. It’s called NJ CARES and will fight addiction by marshaling resources more efficiently.

“The coordination that I’m talking about is necessary, because the explosion in the opioid and heroin crisis in this state and across the country is really unprecedented. And no individual community, no corner of the state, is immune from it,” said Grewal.

Speaking at a symposium on opioids at Seton Hall Law School, Grewal cited disturbing new statistics. In 2016, New Jersey logged more than 2,200 drug-related deaths. That’s a 40 percent increase over the year before. There’s more: New Jersey cops and EMTs used Naloxone to counter drug overdoses nearly 14,000 times last year, that’s double the year before. The former Bergen County prosecutor explained how NJ CARES will operate.

“We talk about leveraging, we talk about coordination, because that’s what’s required to combat this epidemic. I’ve seen firsthand, on the ground, how successful it can be at a county prosecutor’s office, when you bring together law enforcement, when you bring together treatment providers, when you bring together social workers and individuals who are in recovery. I’ve seen it work,” Grewal testified.

The new office will roll out a website to publicly display information, like overdose deaths, that will update in real time. It will also oversee a 24/7 statewide Opioid Response Team, using an $850,000 federal grant to pay for training, transportation and on-call volunteers that provide support and referrals to overdose victims. It’s a method recovery coach John Brogan follows in Ocean County.

“These guys are taking what we’ve learned from the last four years of grassroots movements and they’re taking it, and now we can start to execute it. We can start to see the difference, like we saw in Ocean County last year, with a 25 percent decrease in opioid-related deaths. One hundred fifteen people that are tracked and still clean and sober, we can now put that in every county across the state, and hopefully really start to make a run at this,” said Brogan.

Another NJ CARES innovation is a computerized database of opioid-related information shared among state agencies. This so-called “dashboard,” funded by another federal grant, will collate and cross-reference info on opioid arrests, Naloxone administrations, fatal and nonfatal overdoses and treatment.

“That’s unique, and the thing that’s really important about it is the fact that usually law enforcement has current information, really up to date information. We’re not dealing with figures from 2016. We’re already looking at figures from 2018. So if we can share that information timely, and look at the data, we may be able to respond more quickly and attack,” said the Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato.

Coordination’s crucial, but Grewal acknowledged New Jersey needs a lot more money to pay for long-term addiction treatment.

“The insurance dollars and the available moneys, that piece of it, we need to do more and that’s going to be a focus of this office, as well,” said Grewal.

The attorney general says the new office will be up and running within a month.