As overdose deaths rise, first responders do their best to help save lives

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State officials say that New Jersey reached an alarming record in 2018 with over 3,000 overdose deaths – a 15 percent increase over 2017 and the first time the state has reached that level.

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal says that his office is making a greater effort in providing new data on the opioid epidemic's impact on New Jersey.

Union County officials say that 2018 is on track to see the same number of overdose deaths as 2017. But they say that the lives saved by using the anti-overdose drug naloxone increased by more than 40 percent.

Sgt. Gary Webb says that naloxone was administered 307 times in Union County in 2018. He says that sometimes multiple doses were needed.

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"I think the big trend we're seeing is the increase in fentanyl overdoses,” he says. “Typically fentanyl is added to the heroin that was already being sold in the area, as what we call a cutting agent, to kind of increase the supply."

Webb says that Linden and Union Township saw the most deployments of naloxone, with more than 60 doses. Elizabeth had 25 deployments.

"For the officers, it's a feeling of giving someone a second chance. Where in the past without Narcan there would've been someone passing away,” says Webb.

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People who are saved from an overdose are given treatment options for rehabilitation.

"To have somebody else intervene right when you're at your weakest and tell you what you need to hear. That's the life-saving,” says Jennyfer Pierre, clinical director at the Counseling Center at Clark.

Pierre says that the center has seen an uptick in fentanyl appearing in urine screens. But she says that they have also seen an increase in awareness.

"We need to continue with the education. We need to continue with services and prevention and helping families in getting it out to the community,” she says.

The Union County Prosecutor’s Office says that they are still waiting on some toxicology reports, but so far they have 116 overdose deaths reported for 2018. This is down from 126 in 2017.

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