Hunterdon has a heroin problem, and Hunterdon County Prosecutor Anthony P. Kearns said the heroin epidemic here is getting worse.

Hunterdon had 40 overdoses reported by law enforcement in 2015 compared to 12 in 2014, which is a 333% increase, Kearns reported in a press release. Last year, the county had 12 overdose fatalities compared to eight in 2014 - a 50 percent increase. There was also a significant increase in overdoses among women, according to Kearns.

“In 2015, police deployed Narcan 19 times and 16 people were saved. Without police administering Narcan, there may have been 16 more deaths,” Kearns said.

Sign Up for E-News

Narcan, also known as Naloxone, is an aerosol that is administered just like a nasal spray. It blocks the effects of an opioid for a period of time. The effects of an opiate can last up to four hours so overdose victims, even if revived by Narcan, still require medical attention. The county's police officers were trained and issued Narcan kits in 2014.

“The impact of the heroin epidemic is not only tragic to families, but also causes a strain on healthcare and government services. The overall impact on our community is extreme as addicts may resort to crime to feed their addictions," Kearns said. "This epidemic is everyone’s problem and it cannot be ignored. Preventing addiction, preventing death, and preserving the quality of life in Hunterdon County are of the utmost importance.”

Kearns said his office and its partners, "have sought to alert the public for the last several years that Hunterdon County is a part of this nationwide epidemic. It is obvious that the recent statistics are showing that this epidemic continues to worsen."

What's the solution?

"Parents, family, friends, law enforcement, faith-based communities and medical personnel are all part of the solution when someone is ensnared in the grips of an addiction," Kearns said. "We will continue to work with our partners, Hunterdon Prevention Resources, Hunterdon Drug Awareness, Hunterdon Behavioral Health and our One Voice initiative. Recognition, treatment, and support from family and friends can help save a life. Preventing an overdose is just as important as responding to and treating one. It’s not just a family issue, it’s also a law enforcement and public health issue. Education and awareness remain crucial.”

The Prosecutor also pointed out additional programs meant to help this epidemic.

For example, the Overdose Protection Act was enacted by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie in 2013 with the purpose of encouraging witnesses and victims of drug overdoses to seek medical assistance and save lives. In instances where evidence is obtained as a result of seeking medical assistance, those involved are protected from arrest, charge, prosecution, conviction, and revocation of parole or probation for possession or use of illegal drugs.

"The Overdose Prevention Act enables people to make the right decision in dialing 9-1-1," Kearns said.

Kearn's START program (Steps To Action Recovery and Treatment) was launched in 2014 and is designed to provide direct referral information, contained in a prepared packet, to individuals who are believed to be suffering in the grips of addiction or other crisis. The START packet is given to individuals or to their families when they are released from jail, police custody or the local hospital emergency room. START packets are also available at libraries and other government buildings in Hunterdon.

The facts and figures Kearns cites include law enforcement reported overdoses only. They do not include hospital or emergency related overdoses.

Anyone with information for law enforcement can submit anonymous tips by calling Crime Stoppers at 800-321-0010 or by going to crimestoppershunterdon.com, or text messaging “HCTIPS”  plus your tip message to 274637 (CRIMES). Tipsters can also download the free mobile app Tipsubmit and select Hunterdon County to submit anonymous tips via text messaging. All tips are anonymous and kept confidential.