UNION COUNTY, NJ – In 2018, 133 people in Union County died as a result of a drug overdose, 122 of which were attributed to opioids, county data shows. County officials are seeing an increased need for postmortem laboratory testing due to the opioid epidemic.

The county’s Department of Public Safety is seeking to renew a contract with NMS Laboratories, a company specializing in postmortem toxicology that the county has worked with in the past.

“These are our tests on urine samples, blood samples, tissue samples,” Public Safety Director Andrew Moran said during the freeholder board meeting Thursday. “There’s a wide variety of tests they do, and several [are] related to the opioid epidemic.”

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Moran is asking Union County to increase the amount budgeted for this testing from $100,000 to $120,000 because of the increased need. The amount would cover testing from Oct. 1, 2019, through Sept. 30, 2021. The Freeholder Board will vote on whether to approve this contract during its regular meeting Sept. 12.

The county has established several programs and initiatives in the wake of the opioid epidemic.

Last month, the Freeholders approved two resolutions providing funding for Operation Helping Hand, a county initiative that offers treatment to individuals arrested for opioid possession. The effort has offered help to 250 people over the last two years, Acting Prosecutor Lyndsay Ruotolo said at an August Freeholder Board meeting.

At a public information seminar in May, several county officials discussed programs in the county to combat drug addiction and abuse. These include Operation Helping Hand and the CLEAR Program, which facilitates connections between people struggling with addiction and recovery coaches.

More information about opioid abuse and resources for help can be found on the state Department of Health website.