JERSEY CITY, N.J. (CBSNewYork) - In an effort to combat the opioid crisis in New Jersey, health and law enforcement officials on Thursday started handing out naloxone - also known as Narcan - the medication used to treat a narcotic overdose in an emergency.
For the next three days, state officials will be at pharmacies across New Jersey giving out naloxone for free and encouraging people to pick it up, CBS2's Jenna DeAngelis reported.
It's been three years since Tammi Abrahams last hugged her son, Justin Pentlicki, whose life was cut short by an overdose. He was 21.
"He was a fun loving kid that had a heart of gold. He would help anybody," said Abrahams. "I don't want someone to feel the hurt that I feel every day."
DeAngelis met Abrahams' cousin, Gloria Manderville, while she was picking up Narcan at a Walgreens pharmacy in Jersey City that was participating in the state's free giveaway.
"I think this could have saved his life had this been in his household," said Manderville. "As a counselor, I think it's my duty and obligation if I see someone in my neighborhood who seems to be overdosing, to have this on my person so I can administer and save someone's life."
"I know in this case with my cousin, 911 didn't get there in time," Manderville said.
The pharmacy is among 300 in New Jersey participating in the free distribution of naloxone through Saturday.
A pharmacist there showed CBS2 how simple it is to use.
"... you would administer in the nostrils, one spray and another spray, as well," said Jay Darji.
Grim numbers from the state health department show there's been a 12% increase in suspected drug-related deaths from January to July this year, compared to the same period in 2019.
"We know that when individuals are dealing with mental health stressors, some may turn to alcohol and drugs to cope," said State Commissioner of Health Judith Persichilli.
In May, New Jersey had the highest number of suspected drug-related deaths in any month.
"What we saw at the peak of the pandemic was a surge in opioid-related overdoses, but they started to level off again between June and July. But, one overdose is one too many, so we take no comfort in that. We're continuing to fight that," said Department of Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson.
The department distributed tens of thousands of free doses to police departments and EMS teams, as well as 1,200 shelters and hundreds of libraries.
State police said, so far in 2020, Narcan has been used more than 10,000 times by first responders.
"We have a drug monitoring initiative to make sure we track not only accidental overdoses, but also Narcan deployments," said State Police Superintendent Col. Patrick Callahan.
"There have been 350 opioid [overdoses] in Bergen County to date. 250 of those opioid [overdoses] have been treated by law enforcement officers. As a result, 250 lives have been saved," said Bergen County Prosecutor Mark Musella at a giveaway in Lyndhurst.
It's a life saving measure that anyone can have on hand.
"We're making Narcan available for free. You don't need to give your name. You don't need to have insurance. You don't need to have an appointment. You can just come in to one of any 300 participating pharmacies," Johnson said.
Last year, the state gave out 32,000 doses in a one day giveaway. This year, they're looking to double that over three days.
"Please get it. Save somebody's life," said Abrahams.
Anyone picking up naloxone will also get information on addiction treatment and recovery.
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