The COVID-19 pandemic is making the opioid epidemic in Northern New Jersey worse, says U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer.
There have been more than 300 drug-related overdose deaths in Warren, Sussex, Passaic and Bergen counties so far this year, according to the Office of New Jersey Coordinator for Addiction Responses and Enforcement Strategies (NJ CARES). These counties are located in New Jersey’s Fifth District, which Gottheimer represents in the U.S. House of Representatives.
There have been more than 2,000 drug-related overdose deaths in New Jersey so far this year.
During a visit last Thursday to the Center for Prevention and Counseling’s Recovery Center in Newton, Gottheimer said research shows that the economic stress from rising unemployment and the depression brought on by being home alone, is contributing to an increase in substance and alcohol use.
“While we deal with this pandemic, the opioid epidemic is continuing to absolutely devastate families throughout Northern New Jersey and their stories are not being told,” Gottheimer said.
According to a recent survey on the use of drugs and alcohol in recent months, 36 percent of those surveyed reported an increased use of illicit drugs and 55 percent reported an increased use in alcohol consumption.
Dr. Aakash Shah of Hackensack University Medical Center and medical director at New Jersey Reentry Corp said that, as an emergency room doctor, he is “reminded daily that there is an opioid epidemic unfolding within this pandemic. Opioid overdose deaths have risen over 20 percent since the start of the pandemic in our state.”
Gottheimer said the bipartisan CARES Act enacted in March provided $425 million to increase access to mental health services through Community Behavioral Health Clinics, suicide prevention programs and emergency response investment. Both versions of the House-passed $2.2 trillion Heroes Act, which Gottheimer supported, includes money for state and local substance-use efforts that need further assistance as a result of the crisis. It provides $8.5 billion for increased mental health and substance abuse services and support, and an additional $600 million investment for Community Behavioral Health Clinics.
As of Monday, the Senate had not yet committed to a vote on the Heroes Act.
“At the federal level, I’ve been proud to support a robust legislative agenda that gives local municipalities and providers the tools necessary to crack down on the opioid epidemic and help those who need it most,” Gottheimer said during his visit to Newton. “This is the sort of real help that we need. No family in the Fifth District should feel alone in this fight. That’s why we must come together to find ways to protect our children and our families from addiction.”
Besides Dr. Shah, Gottheimer was joined at The Center for Prevention and Counseling by former Governor Jim McGreevey; The Center for Prevention and Counseling’s executive director Becky Carlson; Robert Carter, director of operations at the New Jersey Reentry Corp.; and Leanne, a local resident in longtime recovery who works with the center.
“Our amazing staff of 58 people work to bring prevention, treatment and recovery support services to all those in need in Sussex County,” Carlson said. “Thank you to Congressman Gottheimer for supporting individuals and their families in need of help.”