N.J. saw a slight uptick in drug overdose deaths in 2020

Naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal drug commonly known by its brand name, Narcan. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal drug commonly known by its brand name, Narcan. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The other major public health threat facing New Jersey — the opioid epidemic — did not abate during the state’s COVID-19 outbreak.

In fact, it got a bit worse.

The state recorded 3,046 suspected drug overdose deaths last year, a slight uptick from the 3,021 overdose fatalities reported in 2019, according to new state data.

Gov. Phil Murphy said the increased feelings of isolation and anxiety caused by the coronavirus pandemic had officials worried the number would be even higher.

“At one level, we could say it could’ve been a lot worse,” Murphy said during a Facebook Live stream Thursday afternoon. “But let’s not forget the fact that those numbers translate into eight losses of life, on average, every single day.”

Murphy highlighted efforts by his administration to combat the opioid epidemic, such as a proposed $10 million investment in treatment services as well as its support for a bill that would expand access to the overdose-reversing drug naloxone.

Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said the new data showed why it was so critical for the state to continue programs aimed at stamping out the opioid crisis — even as COVID-19 took hold across the state.

“These are our daughters, our sons, brothers, sisters, our parents, our loved ones,” Persichilli said. “They deserve services that can put them on a healthier path to get the most out of life.”

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