RANDOLPH — The number of New Jersey residents believed to have died of drug overdoses in 2022 is at its lowest point in six years, according to State Police data.
The drop can be linked to countless partnerships between law enforcement and health care workers throughout the state − one of which, the Hope One mobile outreach program, marked its sixth anniversary Tuesday.
Officials from various community organizations gathered at the County College of Morris for the annual Hope One Symposium. Speakers at the day-long event celebrated the positive strides the initiative has made in reducing the opioid crisis while recognizing the work still to be done.
Opioids in New Jersey and U.S.
New Jersey recorded 2,893 suspected drug overdose deaths in 2022, according to State Trooper Kevin Coyle. That number is more than 200 less than the 3,124 in 2021 and is the lowest since 2017, which saw 2,737 drug-related overdose deaths.
“I’ve given this presentation for a few years now. I felt like every time I would get in front of people, I’d be giving really bad news,” Coyle said. “I’m really happy to be here today to share good news for once.”
But the news is not as good for the rest of the United States.
The country’s fatal overdose statistics were virtually unchanged between 2021 and 2022, Coyle said. Annual figures have risen sharply in recent years, with 71,000 deaths in 2019 increasing to 92,000 in 2020 and 107,000 in the past two years.
History of Hope One
New Jersey’s success compared to the rest of the U.S. is undoubtedly due in part to initiatives like Hope One, the brainchild of Morris County Sheriff Jim Gannon.
Gannon learned of the prevalence of opioid use when speaking to community members during his sheriff campaign. He took office in January 2017, and Hope One launched three months later. The program’s van travels to locations throughout Morris County, with a sheriff’s officer, mental health clinician and peer recovery specialist offering help to those suffering from addiction.
Hope One community impact
Since its founding, Hope One has connected with more than 35,000 individuals seeking help for themselves or a loved one, Gannon said. The agency has distributed more than 6,000 kits of Narcan, medication that revives a person experiencing an opioid overdose.
Hope One is now available in nine of New Jersey’s 21 counties. It has produced offshoot programs like the Hope Hub, which helps individuals and families deemed to be at an “acutely elevated risk” of harm, and PAARI (Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative), which provides those with substance abuse problems a safe way to seek help for addiction at local police departments.
Public health professionals have long sought to destigmatize drug addiction so individuals feel comfortable seeking their services.
Jon-Erik Randazzo, a peer recovery specialist with Hope One, is in long-term recovery from a heroin addiction fueled by years of silently battling childhood trauma. Had public perception been different, he said, he likely would have reached out for help much sooner.
“Let’s drop the stigma. Let’s drop that judgment.” Randazzo said. “Let’s make people feel OK that they can come out with some heavy stuff and tell another person. Let’s stop that nonsense of people suffering in silence for way too long.”
Hope One may have started in Morris County, but eight other New Jersey counties have taken Gannon’s idea and modified it to fit their respective areas. As the state continues battling the opioid crisis, the sheriff urged communities to think of ways to make his initiative even more effective.
“Don’t get caught in an echo chamber,” Gannon said. “Make it better. Be honest with each other and say, ‘Hey listen, we’re missing the mark here and we need to do this or that.’ I think that’s extremely important.”
Kyle Morel is a local reporter covering Morris and Sussex counties.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @KMorelNJH
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