The Scourge of the Garden State: Helping New Jersey’s Youth Win the Battle Against Heroin and Opiate Addiction

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In March 2014, the New Jersey Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse released a report calling for “urgent action” into the state’s unrelenting heroin and opiate crisis among people aged 18-25.

The Scourge

In the year and a half since the report was released, not much has changed. From 2011-2013, the death rate attributable to heroin and opiate overdoses in the Garden State rose from 3.7 to 6.25 per 100,000 people. Already well above the national death rate of 2.7, the rate in New Jersey climbed even higher in 2014, reaching a zenith of 7.5 per 100,000 people, according to the state’s medical examiner. This means that even in the wake of the governor’s report identifying the problem and calling on New Jerseyans to take action, deaths continued to mount on an unprecedented scale.

New Jersey’s Department of Human Services took a closer look at the 2014 substance abuse statistics in a report released earlier this year. The statistics showed that in a single year, more than 28,000 people were admitted into substance abuse programs in the state.

Packed with heartbreaking case studies, tearful testimony and bright-eyed images of young men lost to the scourge of addiction, the governor’s task force report also featured stories about the people left behind: mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and friends, who offered insight into the trauma and despair they experienced, and no doubt continue to experience, as a result of these untimely and preventable deaths.

The Solutions

The real purpose of the task force report, however, was to not only underscore what has clearly become an epidemic in New Jersey but also identify action steps the state can take to stem the deaths.

Among the solutions suggested in the governor’s report were the usual remedies: educating the public, enlisting the help of schools and colleges, developing standards of best practices for prescribers and increasing detection and prevention technology. Perhaps the most important recommendation, however, was “Enhancing Access to Quality, Clinically Appropriate Treatment”.

While the “solutions” part of the report naturally became mired down in the minutiae of health insurance coverage and the many barriers to treatment, it also identified the need for public awareness and developing a sophisticated campaign strategy aimed at helping those who know and love drug abusers identify warning signs.

Engaging Parents, Family & Friends

No other part of an addict’s network is more important to reversing the cycle of addiction than those who know and love the abuser. While pharmaceutical companies, medical providers, and even treatment facilities all have a stake in the prevention and rehabilitation of addicts, the real stakeholders are the ones who have the most to lose: the addicts themselves and their families and friends.

Among these stakeholders, no other action is more important than recognizing signs and symptoms of opioid abuse. They include:

  • Increased anxiety
  • Psychosis
  • Overconfidence/increased self-esteem
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Decreased motivation
  • Fits of energy and activity followed by long periods of fatigue
  • Breathlessness
  • “Nodding” off at inappropriate times
  • Sudden nausea or vomiting
  • Prolonged or mysterious absences followed by implausible explanations

While any of these instances can seem innocuous individually, they can offer grim signs of a hidden addiction when viewed collectively and in context. Perhaps the greatest sign of opioid addiction is a sudden, uncharacteristic and dramatic change in behavior or mood.

Finding Help

Even if you have no immediate plans to intervene on behalf of a loved one, contacting a treatment center is always the right thing to do. Not only can treatment staff help you identify the indicators of specific addictions, they can also help you develop a plan to approach the addict. In many cases, staff clinicians can help identify the root causes of addictive behavior and point you in the direction of the right remedy for your loved one.

Inpatient treatment is not always the best option. Intensive outpatient programs (IOP) often provide a more welcome therapeutic approach, since addicts may feel intimidated by the idea of “going away to treatment” or being isolated from their support system. Outpatient care can also provide cover for addicts who are reluctant about confiding their substance abuse problems to their employers.

Outpatient centers also provide excellent intervention programs for at-risk youth or teens and young adults. At High Focus Centers, we specialize in customizing treatment programs to meet the needs of the individual.

If you or someone you love is need of help, don’t wait. Contact us today before the spiral of addiction adds another tragic number to its growing chart of statistics. u