September 6, 2018 | Number of The Day
Increase in opioid deaths in New Jersey from 2016 to 2017

It’s no secret that opioids are claiming the lives of more and more Americans each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently estimated the national overdose death toll from 2017 at 72,000 people, up 10.2 percent from 2016.

Worse, New Jersey saw one of the biggest increases in opioid-caused deaths in the country. From 2016 to 2017, fatal overdoses in the Garden State increased by 27 percent, well above the national average.

Researchers believe that the circulation of synthetic opioids such as fentanyl is largely to blame for these grim figures. These drugs are more concentrated and, when mixed into black-market supplies, can up the risks traditionally associated with using heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and benzodiazepines (such as Xanax and Librium) if the user is unaware of their strength—or presence. One of the reasons the death toll has been so high in New Jersey recently is because East Coast and midwestern heroin tends to circulate as processed white powder, while western states distribute it in a form known as black tar. Fentanyl mixes easily with the powder, but not as well with the tar.

Public health campaigns to curb opioid use have appeared to help New England combat overdose deaths: Several states in that region, including Massachusetts, Vermont, and Rhode Island, saw a decline in death tolls in 2017 after instituting prevention and treatment programs. Last year, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration made nearly $1 billion in grants available to states fighting the opioid crisis for the fiscal years 2017 and 2018. President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a national public health emergency.