NJ Overdose Crisis

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Reggy Colby, age 30 and a recovering heroin addict, displays a bag heroin is sold in, on August 21, 2013 in Camden, New Jersey. (Andrew Burton/Getty)

Fatal drug overdoses in New Jersey have risen to more than one per day. Patty DiRenzo, a parent and advocate, and Frank Greenagel, addiction and recovery treatment counselor, chair of the task force established by the Governor's Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, and professor at Rutgers University, discuss a new report that addresses the heroin and prescription drug use crisis in the state, including its recommendations for addiction treatment and policy changes.


Patty DiRenzo and Frank Greenagel

Comments [16]

Frank Greenagel Jr. from Piscataway, NJ

If you want to get more involved, I encourage you to reach out to your local municipal alliance:

The create programming for young people and do excellent, low cost prevention work in the towns they exist in. They need dedicated parents, people in recovery and professionals that are willing to donate their time.

If you want to become a public advocate and tell you story to people (politicians, kids or other community members), go to in NJ
or in NYC

Apr. 01 2014 12:22 PM
Eileen from Highlands NJ

I agree with Ms Di Renzo about lack of treatment facilities available to everyone and especially to those without insurance or over 18. I have had those horrid experiences with my now 25 yr old daughter over the last 5 years. Even when she is ready to go for treatment the wait can be 2 or 3 weeks - too long for her to keep her resolve; so she relapses before treatment can even begin.

However, I want to bring up an issue that I don't hear mentioned very often: interaction with Justice system: My daughter has been arrested about 5-6 times in the past year mostly in Morris and Monmouth counties. Her family do not bail her out so she stays incarcerated until she comes before a judge. The judge recognizes the root cause of all her offenses is heroin addiction but they don't seem to be able to mandate treatment. It has been admitted to me that from Morris County jail it is almost impossible to get an inmate directly into drug treatment- so my daughter is released to find her own treatment and she relapses before that happens. Impossible to transfer from jail to treatment not because illegal or not wanted but due to lack of facilitators & procedures in the jail system to arrange this.
Instead they make a plea deal and release her ROR and put her back on Probation (which she violated at least 10 times already) and she relapses once free and then is re-arrested and back in county jail. Also, time between plea agreement and sentencing (maybe to include mandatory treatment) are often 6-8 weeks - way too long to leave addict at loose without treatment even if they are clean from time spent in jail. I am in the middle of this right now and there seems to be no end in sight. I understand that NJ jails are full of low level offenders (possession/theft etc) and cost the State a lot of money. However, maybe it is better to leave addicts in jail rather than release them to re-offend when they relapse and perhaps death from overdose.

Apr. 01 2014 12:12 PM
Frank Greenagel Jr. from Piscataway, NJ

I appreciate all the comments on this board. My views on marijuana can be found here

and my concerns about the over-prescription of stimulants can be found on under the "Policy" section of my website. I don't want to get bogged down in a discussion about either of those topics here.

My advice to people that care about this issue:
(1) please read our Task Force report
(2) secure your medicine cabinets
(3) find out if there is a RX Drop box in your town. If not, get the authorities to put one in your town. Our report tells you how to do it.
(4) go to your school board and urge them to update their curriculum to include education about the dangers of RX drugs
(5) contact your local & county officials, as well as your state assemblymen and state senators and let them know you are concerned about these issues

Apr. 01 2014 12:03 PM
SL from NYC

As a healthcare professional I would like to clear a few things up.

Years ago pain control was a huge issue in medicine. People were being under prescribed pain medications, and there was a push to change that. Pain is now considered the fifth vital sign. Prescribers are cautious to give pain medications because they don't want anything to happen to people. Yes, we do not know you intimately or your background, and thus we take what you tell us at face value.

Do no harm is our motto.

Pain is subjective. I can take your blood pressure and get an objective reading (i.e. 130/80). Pain I can only I can only know by what you tell me.

The aforementioned preprinted prescriptions are not sitting around and handed out like flyers. We were once able to call in prescriptions for controlled substances, but the government has made efforts to prevent fraudulent prescriptions. Also, the charting systems in hospitals is now computerized, and the prescriptions are printed out. The prescription papers are actually locked into the printer because some patients desperate for drugs actually take the prescription paper out of the paper tray to get drugs illegally. In NY State there is now a new government program where the prescriber needs to check a state website when prescribing a controlled substance so that he/she can see if each patient is being prescribed any controlled substances from any other providers, and make an informed decision before prescribing.

Please know that we do our best to help people, keep them from being in pain, and keep them safe.

Apr. 01 2014 12:01 PM
Tom from Orange County

RLF from Yonkers. It does not. This epidemic can be laid right at the feet of BIG PHARMA (Purdue Pharma LP especially ... and a medical-cultural reaction to undertreating pain in the past. Ground zero is Purdue's launch of oxycodone in 1996. The epidemic starts there and morphs into heroin because it is available and it is now cheaper than the pharmas (Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, Percodan, Demerol, Darvon, et al). More good info on this epidemic here ...

Apr. 01 2014 11:59 AM

Pre-printed scripts from the pharma co.®?!?!

…say no more!!

Apr. 01 2014 11:44 AM
Holley Flagg

What about aggressive campaigning to the prescribing doctors

Apr. 01 2014 11:42 AM
John A

I was prescribed oxycodone/contin in 1999, as a point of reference to history. Broken leg. I noticed an addicting effect by about day 4 and took myself off of it. Why the medical community just prescribed it so freely mystifies me.

Apr. 01 2014 11:37 AM

caller proved yet again, it aint pot that causes heroin addiction. its pharma painkillers.

Apr. 01 2014 11:35 AM
Anthony from Jersey Shore native

I was devastated to learn about the fatal overdose of an old friend of mine from New Jersey several years ago. It echoed overdoses of other young people from our small Jersey shore town in the last decade.

While the class-based conversation around heroin right now irks me, (as if this class-transcendent issue wasn't a problem BEFORE Philip Seymour Hoffman died?), it seemed these people who overdosed began their dalliances with drugs many years earlier, and, as the cliche has it, found heroin in their later stages of drug-use.

First, overdose-reversing medications (Narcan) should be more readily available. Second, Christie should legalize marijuana to allow and relieve the illicitness of so much escalating drug-culture that attracts young people. New Jersey's myriad problems will not begin to be rationally considered with that self-interested thug in governance.

Apr. 01 2014 11:34 AM
Phoebe from bushwick

Can you ask Frank Greenegal to talk about Ibogaine as a drug treatment for heroin?

Apr. 01 2014 11:32 AM

Along with the current opiate epidemic, we also have a huge problem with over-prescribed amphetamines - ritalin, adderall, dexedrine... under-reported and ruining millions of American lives.

Apr. 01 2014 11:28 AM
Tom from Orange County

My son started with oxycodone and went to heroin because it was cheaper. His mom and I found an amazing program (6 months minimum) that worked for him. Shorter programs USUALLY DO NOT WORK.

Apr. 01 2014 11:25 AM
justme from So.Plainfield

Is this a surprise? Doctors give away prescriptions left and right- and big pharma makes big $. Heart medication $125 with insurance, 60 pills of oxicodone... $5.

Apr. 01 2014 11:25 AM
RLF from Yonkers

Does this new heroin epidemic have to do with soldiers coming back from the Afghan war like the last one came home with Vietnam vets?

Apr. 01 2014 11:24 AM
nancy from hope,n.j.

Fourteen years ago my 23 year old son died from an overdose. The news was posted on the police report buried deep inside our local newspaper. There may have been a time when this would have been shocking and at least 2nd page noteworthy especially because we live in a rural community with a population of 2000. Without going into lengthy details, I must tell you that I spent four years trying to get some help from the law enforcement community to investigate this death because of the suspicious nature. In short he was allowed to die when in fact he could have been saved by simply dropping him off at the emergency questions asked. I was repeatedly told by the prosecutor that my son had made his own choice and was in essence responsible for his own death. My goal was not to seek revenge as much as to make public the rampant use of dangerous narcotics in all corners of our world and that someone's life could possibly be saved with the knowledge that they would not be in danger of prosecution should they call for help for an overdose. The wide spread use of heroin and prescription narcotics is by no means new but has been rampant for at least the past 20 years and I do hope (but have no expectation) that the recent interest on the topic via media will maybe help the crisis. Drugs will always be around because there is simply no cure for addiction but, increased education on how to deal with addiction can help. I am a recovering addict and have been clean for over 27 years and always feel so frustrated when I listen to 'experts' voice their opinions. Best source for facts are from healthy recovering people (not as rampant as I wish) and I do include family members in recovery.

Apr. 01 2014 10:33 AM

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