In New Jersey, where drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death, one county is experiencing a massive uptick in heroin overdoses as prescription painkiller addicts make the switch to the illegal street drug. In two years, heroin has claimed at least 50 lives in Bergen County and has its grasp on hundreds more who became hooked through painkillers such as OxyContin and Opana, according to this article. As compared to pills, heroin, at $5 per bag, is far cheaper, potent, and widely available, the article notes.
The widespread painkiller addiction epidemic has fueled the rise of heroin use nationwide, particularly among suburban youth. Between 2007 and 2011, the number of users went from 373,000 to 620,000, according to federal data, and heroin-dependent young adults more than doubled to 109,000 between 2009 and 2011, according to the article.
Legislators in New Jersey are currently considering implementing a law that would grant immunity to those who dispense and administer naloxone, a medication that counters the effects of overdoses from opiates like OxyContin and heroin. The Opioid Antidote and Overdose Prevention Act would allow medical providers to prescribe naloxone and allow people to administer the drug to overdose victims without fear of being prosecuted. It would also require that prescription recipients get information on how to prevent and recognize overdoses, as well as how to administer the medication and care for the overdose victim. Eight other states have similar laws.
Last year, New Jersey legislators floated a separate bill that would have granted immunity to those who report overdoses, but Gov. Chris Christie nixed the measure, proposing that state officials study the issue instead. The governor claimed the legislation was too narrowly focused on encouraging more reporting of drug overdoses, rather than other aspects such as drug abuse deterrence, violence prevention and public safety.