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Increase in opioid deaths strikes New Jersey

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Matt Carvin describes himself as a carefree, happy go lucky person before addiction entered his life. He became addicted to Percocet at age 18 and everything changed. Carvin’s story is only one of many stories of people from New Jersey who have also had to battle opioid addiction.

Carvin, now a 24 year old Hamilton resident and former patient at the Seabrook House in Bridgeton, NJ, points the blame at the doctors who he says made him and his entire graduating class dependent on prescription opioids.

“The doctors were giving [Percocet] out like they were lollipops,” Carvin said. Carvin said his addiction to Percocet, when he was a senior in high school, is what led to him using heroin by the time he turned 20 years old. Carvin credits his strong religious beliefs for helping him overcome his addiction and says it keeps him clean and sober today.

“I pray every day and every night to God to keep the temptation to use away from me and help me stay strong,” said Carvin.

His sister Gabriella describes the physical and emotional toll her brother’s addiction had on her, him and their family. “He would have panic attacks and outbursts of anger when he was going through withdrawal. In a way the withdrawals were as bad as the addiction. Seeing him go through that was not just horrible for him, but also for me and my parents.”

While many, including Carvin, have pointed blame at the doctors for making opioids so accessible, not all heroin addicts in New Jersey turn to heroin due to a pre-existing painkiller addiction. Jason Covijo, a 21 year old recovering addict and Hightstown resident, turned to heroin at 16 years old in order to relieve the stress of life.

“A heroin high makes you feel numb so you don’t worry or stress about anything,” he said. While Carvin has been sober for over a year now, and is pursuing a career in electrical work, Covijo was only recently released from rehab facility to begin his sober life.

While some individuals who have battled heroin addiction got second chances, data from the N.J. Department of Criminal Justice shows that the number of heroin related deaths in New Jersey from 2005-2014 has ranged from 362 in 2005, all the way to 741 in 2014. Heroin related deaths more than doubled in a nine year span.

According to Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey’s State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, there has been some progress legislating harm reduction strategies in the form of The Good Samaritan Emergency Response Act. A bill that gives people immunity from arrest if they call 911 to report an overdose, allowing first responders to prioritize lifesaving above drug arrests.

In an interview with The VOICE, Scotti said she thinks more effective prevention methods and more access to treatment are needed.

“There’s a waiting list for treatment providers all across the state” Scotti said. “We need more money for drug treatment, that’s something that’s just gonna cost money, and the state seems to be in a bad place in terms of budget deficit. So, I’m not sure that more money is going to come for that.”

For the past six years, Mercer County Community College has released a crime statistics report in accordance with the Clery Act. A federal law which requires institutes of higher education nationwide to collect and report, annually, all crimes that occur both on and near campus. Clery reports require inclusion of previous years’ crime statistics. MCCC’s most recent Clery report indicates that one drug related arrest occurred on the West Windsor campus in 2014. It also states that a combined 13 drug related arrests occurred on public property near the Trenton campus during 2013-2014.

Michael Flaherty, Mercer’s Commanding Officer of Security told the VOICE “According to Clerial (sic) geography, any drug related incident that happens either on our campuses or on public property near both our campuses has to be reported.” He added the 2014 West Windsor campus arrest was not opioid related, but was an instance of a student caught smoking marijuana on campus. Nevertheless, opioid deaths are on the rise in the county and near the downtown Trenton campus in particular.

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