By JOHN T. WARD
Despite the widespread, often successful use of a fast-acting opiate antidote, the number of overdose victims continued to soar last year, rising 35 percent, the agency reported.
Red Bank police Chief Darren McConnell said the number of overdose cases in the borough over the last two years is “ridiculously higher” than he’d seen in the first three decades in law enforcement.
Chief Darren McConnell, left, with Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden in 2014. Below, comparative data of deaths by cause, as compiled by the prosecutor’s office. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
The death of a man in a Branch Avenue house last week appeared to have been from a heroin overdose, though toxicology reports are not yet complete, McConnell said. The victim’s name has not been released.
Though reports on Narcan interventions are sent to the prosecutor’s office, borough police don’t keep statistics on ODs, McConnell said. The prosecutor’s office did not immediately respond Wednesday to a request for detailed information broken down by town.
But the number of OD cases is “easily several a month, if not close to double digits,” McConnell told redbankgreen last week.
Citing the antidote naloxone, or Narcan, McConnell said, “I can’t tell you the number of Narcan saves we’ve had,” in which either a police officer used a nasal spray to revive a victim or a MONOC paramedic or EMT injected the antidote into the victim’s bloodstream, he said.
“I’ve lost count,” he said. “We have them constantly. Constantly.”
The borough has been “relatively lucky” in that there have been two overdose fatalities in the past six months, including last week’s, McConnell said.
“Usually, they’re lucid by the time we get them to the hospital,” he said of victims. “It’s a miracle that you’re bringing someone back from the brink of death” with something that looks like a simple nasal decongestant dispenser, he said.
Fueling the spike in deaths is heroin cut with fentanyl, a cheap, synthetic painkiller reported to be 50 to 100 times as potent as morphine, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
“Between the heroin epidemic and the way they’re cutting the heroin now, it’s so deadly it’s ridiculous,” McConnell told redbankgreen last week. “There’s not a lot of experience in cutting it to get the right dosage of it,” and users probably have no idea what strength of the mixture they’re getting,” he said.
RWJBarnabas Health Behavioral Health Center in Toms River will host a Narcan distribution, training and education session on March 9 at 6 p.m. The program is available for anyone who has a loved one or friend who is using opiates or someone who is actively using opiates.