MORRIS COUNTY, NJ – Acting Morris County Prosecutor Robert J. Carroll, Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon, Chief of Detectives Christoph Kimker, and Morris County’s Prevention is Key (PIK) Associate Director Melody Runyon are issuing a warning on a surge in opiate overdoses.
New Jersey’s opiate epidemic has grown more complicated and deadly with the onset of the COVID-19 emergency. Recent overdoses are being fueled by a more potent form of fentanyl circulating in North Jersey. A synthetic opioid, fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, and when mixed with heroin, it can create doses of unpredictable and often lethal strength.
Since the start of 2021 alone, Morris County has experienced 16 fatal opiate and 22 non-fatal opiate overdoses in Morris County. Victims are from such communities as Boonton, Denville, East Hanover, Lincoln Park, Jefferson, Morristown, Mt. Arlington, Parsippany, Pequannock, Riverdale and Roxbury, and have ranged in ages from 24 to 60.
In 2020, Morris County experienced 78 overdoses found to be opiate-related. This is an epidemic that impacts every community, and can claim victims at all stages of life.
In New Jersey, police and prosecutors are directed by an Attorney General Directive to investigate all overdose deaths, and can potentially charge dealers responsible under New Jersey’s strict liability for drug-induced death statute.
“Each day we are losing entirely too many members of our community to drug overdoses, and drug-related deaths have only increased due to the multi-factorial challenges posed by COVID-19. The Morris County Prosecutor’s Office is resolute in its commitment to investigating and enforcing applicable state law, which calls for prosecuting distributors whose sales lead to drug-related deaths as first-degree offenders. We will investigate each and every overdose death and target the dealer of these deadly poisons. Distributors who prey upon the addicted will be held responsible – for both their drug distribution offense AND the loss of life that all too often results,” Carroll said.
“It is essential that the community is aware of the law and our resolve to enforce it in order to protect the citizens of Morris County. Let this be a warning to drug dealers that they are taking an enormous risk with every fold of heroin they distribute,” Carroll said.
“Our Hope One teams, consisting of licensed clinicians, peer recovery specialists, and Sheriff’s Officers, have made six hundred and fifty-two (652) contacts in this year alone. Our goal is to reach the at-risk population and we remain ever-focused in this undertaking. These personal contacts are occurring at an increasing rate, and services are obviously needed now more than ever. The burgeoning need is an expected one, in light of the many added stressors we, as a society, have seen in 2020, and continuing in 2021. We are forever committed and motivated towards fighting addiction and offering services towards that end. We have redoubled our efforts in this worthwhile battle and the Hope One Team remains steadfast in our joint mission of recovery,” Gannon said.
“We also remain dedicated to our investigative efforts and we are in support of Prosecutor Robert Carroll, and his team, as well as the municipal Police Chiefs, in attacking the production and supply of these deadly narcotics, with an emphasis on cutting off the ‘head of the dragon’ by disrupting the distribution of heroin and fentanyl in particular,” Gannon said.
Morris County launched a program to equip law enforcement officers with Narcan, and since its launch in 2015, have deployed the overdose-reversing medication over 900 times.
However, given the circumstances created by the Covid-19 health emergency, not every victim can be reached in time to reverse a fatal overdose. In 2020, there were 156 successful Narcan deployments. So far this year, there have been 22 successful deployments.
The COVID-19 emergency has caused disruption to in-person recovery meetings and religious programs due to social distancing and the fact that many in recovery have lost their jobs is placing stress on those who are already struggling with substance use.
Morris County law enforcement has partnered with service providers such as Morris County’s Prevention is Key (PIK) and Center for Addiction & Recovery Education & Services (CARES) to connect those struggling with substance use with resources. PIK and CARES have stepped up their virtual community engagement.
Associate Director Melody Runyon said, “We know that the opposite of addiction is connection, and that people who have a substance use disorder need connection in order to find and maintain a life in recovery. PIK’s recovery center, CARES’ response was to immediately offer recovery support services via a virtual platform including mutual aid meetings such as All Recovery, CRAFT Family Support, yoga for 12-Step Recovery, Harm Reduction Works and Heal the Healers. CARES Peer Recovery Specialists also provide Recovery Coaching, Case Management, and Narcan Rescue Trainings virtually, which will mail or deliver Narcan to training participants.”
In 2020, CARES Peer Recovery Specialists provided Recovery Support Services 10,669 times to 1,440 individuals, a 167 % increase compared to 2019.
Associate Director Melody Runyon said, “They also trained 2,019 people in Narcan administration giving people the skills and tools to reverse and opiate overdose. We will continue to be here during the Covid-19 pandemic to assure anyone who has a need receives linkage to resources and support to help them get through these difficult times.”
CARES maintains a 24/7 Telephone Recovery Support available at 973-625-1143.
The Morris County Prosecutor’s Office has launched several programs providing alternatives to incarceration for certain drug offenses and to build a rapport between law enforcement and the community. This would include Drug Court and Operation Helping Hand (OHH).
Morris County will be launching the next phase in 2021 of OHH, an initiative where substance abuse treatment is offered to those arrested for possessory drug offenses as an alternative to incarceration. A statewide leader, in the first two phases of Morris County Operation Helping Hand, county law enforcement made a combined 94 arrests. Of the individuals deemed eligible, 44 — or 47%, accepted treatment through a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist from the Center for Addiction, Recovery Education and Success (CARES). Two citizens who were not arrested were also referred to services.