Congressman Smith Speaks at Point Pleasant Forum on Fighting Opioid Addiction
Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.) joined advocates and families affected by the opioid epidemic in speaking out about the drug crisis at a forum in Point Pleasant on Monday evening.Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.) joined advocates and families affected by the opioid epidemic in speaking out about the drug crisis at a forum in Point Pleasant on Monday evening.
“Addiction in the United States is at epidemic proportions,” said Smith, who is the chairman of a House panel that oversees global health. “It is imperative that we not only continue to bring awareness to this issue, but provide parents and loved ones with the tools and resources to help family members and friends break the chains of addiction.”
Smith spoke at the forum on “Escaping Addiction,” held at Life Chapel in Point Pleasant. The event featured author and “Celebrate Recovery” program leader Mike Palombi, members of law enforcement, parents of a victim of a drug overdose, and recovery advocates.
Ocean County Prosecutor, Joseph Coronato, participated in the panel discussion. Ocean County, N.J., recently was approved for federal funding and support to fight drug trafficking through the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program.
A member of the Congressional Addiction, Treatment, and Recovery Caucus, Smith supported a package of bills in 2016, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) which was signed into law. Smith noted that CARA established an inter-agency task force to study the best practices for fighting the opioid epidemic, funded treatment for addiction, and sought to curb abuse of prescription painkillers.
“Addiction is a disease, and like other diseases, prevention is paramount and recovery is the cure,” Rep. Smith stated.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has declared opioid abuse to be an epidemic, noting that from 1999 to 2015 the number of opioid overdose deaths – involving prescription painkillers, heroin, or synthetics like fentanyl -- had quadrupled.
There were 64,070 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2016, a 21 percent increase from the previous year according to CDC provisional data. Deaths involving synthetic opioids like fentanyl more than doubled from the previous year to 20,145.
New Jersey has one of the highest opioid overdose death rates for ages under 35. There were 1,587 drug-related deaths in New Jersey in 2015, according to the latest numbers from the state’s medical examiner office. Over half of those deaths, 918, involved heroin. Recent media reports indicate the 2016 numbers for New Jersey could be significantly higher.
Ocean County had the second-highest number of drug-related deaths in the state with 157; 74 of those involved heroin, and 51 involved fentanyl. Monmouth County was fourth among counties in the state with 122 deaths; 68 were heroin-related.
There were over 76,000 reported admissions for substance abuse treatment in New Jersey in 2016, according to the state’s Department of Human Services. 43 percent of the admissions in 2016 were heroin-related. Ocean County had the highest number of abuse admissions in the state in 2016, with 7,244. Monmouth County was fourth with 6,177.
Military veterans are another group at risk of prescription painkiller abuse, as studies show that they are more likely than the general populace to become addicted to painkillers. One of the bills Smith supported, the Promoting Responsible Opioid Management and Incorporating Scientific Expertise (PROMISE) Act, created new initiatives at the Department of Veterans Affairs to address opioid abuse among veterans.