CHATHAM, NJ - In 2015, the United States lost 33,000 people to opioid overdoses. More specifically, the state of New Jersey has suffered a 214 percent increase in opioid overdoses since 2010.

Morris County alone lost 64 residents to opioid related fatalities in 2016, a significant increase from the 43 deaths in 2015 -- and this number is only increasing. Just five months into 2017, Morris County has already suffered at least 36 overdoses. At this rate, the annual number of opioid related deaths in Morris County will almost certainly exceed last year’s number.

With these statistics only growing more disturbing as the opioid epidemic continues to rapidly expand in the area, the Chatham community has decided to take action. The Chatham Township Committee has decided to raise awareness on the subject, and will be hosting an Opioid Awareness Community Presentation on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at the Chatham Township Municipal Building.

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The presentation will be held in conjunction with the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office under the direction of prosecutor Fredric M. Knapp.

The presentation is designed to raise public consciousness about the opioid epidemic to hinder the growing number of deaths in the area.

“I encourage all residents to consider attending this important even as we focus on shedding light on this important issue,” said Township Mayor Curt Ritter.

Chief Assistant Prosecutor, Bradford Seabury, and Director of Prevention Services for Morris County Prevention is Key, Barbara Kauffman, will be leading the presentation. They will be “(detailing) the latest national and local statistics and (delving) into how illicit drugs are distributed and sold in the United States” as well as “how addiction can start and ways to combat it.”

This active approach by the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office to combat the opioid epidemic “coincides with State efforts to combat opioid addiction.”

Governor Christie signed a law earlier this year which limits physicians to providing first time patients with only a five-day supply of opioid prescriptions. This legislation is significant for prevention, as a large number of opioid addiction have stemmed from patients being over prescribed painkillers by physicians.  

Plans for another discussion on the subject are currently being worked out, which will focus on the the struggles of individuals and their families with addiction. Melissa Crouse and other Chatham parents are looking to hold a discussion on either May 30, 7 to 8 p.m. at the CHS Auditorium, that will highlight the public and mental health aspects of the epidemic.