MORRIS COUNTY, NJ – Morris County Prosecutor Robert J. Carroll was among the speakers at the Morris County Overdose Awareness Day on August 31 hosted by Senator Anthony Bucco, Morris County Sheriff James Gannon, the Morris County Board of Commissioners and Morris County Department of Human Services.
The annual event is intended to honor loved ones taken by the drug epidemic and fentanyl poisoning. Held outside the Morris County Department of Human Services, the event was sponsored by the Global Recovery Movement and the Morris County Municipal Alliances and Rooting for Recovery.
International Overdose Awareness Day, commemorating its 20th year, is a global event held every year to raise awareness of overdose and fentanyl poisoning, reduce the stigma and to memorialize those lost to this epidemic.
Other speakers included State Senator Anthony Bucco, Morris County Commissioner Stephen Shaw, Sheriff James Gannon, Matthew Albanese of the Center for Addiction Recovery Education & Success (CARES), and Morris County residents and former residents who have lost loved ones to overdose.
Prosecutor Carroll recognized Morris County’s collaborative approach of treating substance use disorder as a disease, having partnered with numerous community-based organizations.
Prosecutor Carroll recalled the launch of the countywide Narcan program, noting of the 1,079 deployments, 92 percent or 989 were successful in reversing otherwise fatal overdose situations, meaning nearly a thousand lives have been saved as a result of intervention by law enforcement.
From January 2014 through to the present, Morris County lost 498 persons to fatal opiate overdoses. In 2020, the county experienced an 84% increase from 2019 in fatal overdoses. New Jersey is estimated to be losing as many as 8 people a day to overdoses. An analysis of the data makes one issue clear, Prosecutor Carroll said – the emergence of potent fentanyl has exacerbated substance use disorder and the number of overdoses.
The MCPO’s Special Enforcement Unit and Narcotics Task Force will be aggressively investigating illegal drug distribution activities, Carroll said.
“We will be seeking to target those predatory dealers who are putting personal profit over lives,” Carroll said. “We have already sent the message with prosecutions that if we can legally tie a dealer to an overdose, we will utilize the strict liability law to charge murder. Sell a deadly drug, and get a murder sentence. We trust it will be a deterrent.”
“But equally important to arresting drug predators, we are contemporaneously working to address those suffering from substance use disorder and provide alternatives and legal systems to get them the help they need, instead of revolving door criminal prosecutions,” Carroll said.
Such programs include Operation Helping Hand, an initiative where treatment is offered to those arrested for possessory drug offenses as an alternative to incarceration, and the new MCPO Mental Health Diversionary Program, a joint effort with the Morris-Essex Mental Health Association, the Morris County Sheriff’s Office, the courts, the county police chiefs and probation to enable early identification and potential entry into treatment for subjects dealing with mental health issues.
“Another key component is Drug Court, where defendants can essentially restart their lives after completing their program obligations, and not be burdened with a criminal history that will limit their future opportunities,” Carroll said. “There have been 240 program graduates with a 66.9% retention rate, the highest in New Jersey. In 2020-2021, Morris County had 71 graduates.”
“Our efforts now are to find new and effective ways to deal with long-endured issues that have often been simply, and perhaps mistakenly, treated as criminal justice problems,” Carroll said. “We know that oftentimes, they are caused by mental health or substance abuse issues and can best be addressed with help and treatment rather than arrest and prosecution. It is our collective goal to provide true help to our citizens and with the support of our Morris County community partners and law enforcement agencies, we are committed to making Morris County a leader in working to prevent drug addiction and its impact on families in our communities.”
Also in attendance from the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office were First Assistant Prosecutor Maggie Calderwood, Chief of Detectives Chris Kimker, Deputy Chief Robert McNally and Chief Assistant Prosecutor Brad Seabury.