May 31, 2021 | Number of The Day
Suspected drug-related deaths in NJ, 2020

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, medical experts forewarned of a parallel surge in drug overdoses and deaths. They pointed to the conditions the pandemic likely would exacerbate, leading to such an outcome — social isolation, economic pressure, increased mental health distress, and less access to addiction support and medications.

Sadly, their prescience has been confirmed in the U.S. overall. According to provisional data released in December by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Over 81,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in the 12 months ending in May 2020, the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period … While overdose deaths were already increasing in the months preceding the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the latest numbers suggest an acceleration of overdose deaths during the pandemic.”

Like other states, New Jersey too anticipated a big increase in drug-related deaths last year. But, as a press release from Gov. Phil Murphy’s office Thursday put it, the state “did not see the anticipated dramatic surge of deaths due to the COVID-19 pandemic experienced in many states across the country.” The number of suspected drug-related deaths in the state in 2020 was 3,046; in 2019, there were 3,021 — later revised to 2,914.

On Thursday, Murphy announced that a new public data dashboard from the Office of the Chief State Medical Examiner will provide public health officials and law enforcement agencies with near real-time data on suspected-drug related deaths, helping them to rapidly address potential threats to the community.

“We’re committed to saving lives by reaching those in need, removing barriers to treatment, expanding access to vital medication-assisted treatment, and distributing life-saving naloxone across our state,” Department of Human Services acting Commissioner Sarah Adelman said. “I continue to urge anyone needing help to call 1-844-ReachNJ. Treatment works, and recovery is possible. Together, we can keep saving lives.”