NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - The number of times city police were called upon to administer naloxone to someone in the throes of an opioid overdose rose slightly in 2019 from the previous year.

Based on this often-cited indicator, one expert says the numbers seems to suggest that opioid epidemic here - and possibly across New Jersey and the United States - is beginning to plateau.

Members of the New Brunswick Police Department were called upon to administer naloxone, which is often sold under the brand name Narcan, 93 times in 2019, according to Capt. J.T. Miller. In all, they administered 103 doses.

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According to Miller, they were called upon to administer the drug 89 times in 2018 (128 doses.)

Dr. Diane Calello, executive and medical director of New Jersey Poison Control Center at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, said that there are other indicators of opioid use, such as statistics focusing on naloxone doses administered by EMS workers. The numbers obtained by TAPinto New Brunswick from city police, however, offer a glimpse at opioid use in the city.

"I think in some regions we're seeing, not a decrease, but a little of a leveling off," Calello said. "I'm hopeful that is going to be an ongoing trend. I'm hoping it's a little glimmer of hope that some of the harm-reduction strategies or education or trying to decrease opioid prescribing exposure may be helping to turn around the epidemic. So, leveling off is not unique to New Brunswick, but it is not universal."

In July 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released statistics that seemed to indicate a drop in prescription opioid painkiller use in the United States. There were some 68,000 drug overdose deaths in America in 2018, marking a 5% drop in 2018. The numbers represent the first decline since 1990.

Calello said education initiatives and news attitude toward prescribing highly addictive opioids could be contributing to the drop in overdose numbers. And, the drop in deaths could be linked to the fact that naloxone is becoming increasingly available to the general public that has discovered it can quickly learn how to properly administer its nasal forms.

In fact, when select pharmacies across New Jersey gave away free doses of naloxone in June as part of Gov. Phil Murphy's pilot program, the Walgreens at 20 Jersey Ave. in New Brunswick was on the list to distribute the drug.

Naloxone was available at select locations of chain pharmacies such as Walgreens, Rite Aid, ShopRite, and CVS as well as at community pharmacies across the state.

“The scourge of opioids continues to devastate families and communities across our state, and we must do everything we can to end the opioid epidemic,” Murphy said. “Through this initiative, people who are battling with addiction will be able to receive access to this critical medication and help them get on a path to recovery.”