Essex County among highest OD rates in Jersey

In response to growing racial disparities in overdose deaths, the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) is launching a new overdose hotspot outreach initiative, prioritizing areas of the state with high disparities and high rates of overdose among Black residents.

“While no corner of our state has been spared the devastating impact of the opioid overdose crisis, we know that this crisis is having a disproportionate impact on Black and brown communities right now,” Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said. “This administration has championed a harm-reduction approach to ending the opioid overdose crisis. Getting these critical tools into hardest hit areas will save lives.”

The counties with the highest rates of overdose deaths among Black residents are Essex, Passaic, Camden, Atlantic and Monmouth counties.

NJDOH analyzed EMS and law enforcement naloxone incident data to identify specific locations where suspected overdoses most frequently occur. The analysis revealed four key location types: transportation centers, correctional facilities, hotel/motels and apartment complexes.

The department identified over 30 locations where there were nine or more suspected overdoses consistently from 2019-2022 and is prioritizing locations for outreach where racial disparities in overdoses are the highest.

 In partnership with local community organizations, the NJDOH is distributing naloxone, fentanyl test strip kits, hygiene kits and other material resources for individuals at risk of overdose. Health educators and peers will provide engagement opportunities to people at risk of an overdose to connect them to harm reduction and treatment resources.

In addition, the NJDOH is providing hotspot locations (such as train stations, motels) with naloxone education and offering naloxone kits for establishments to store for bystander use in the event of an overdose.

While New Jersey overdose deaths have remained flat during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to rising rates in other states, racial and ethnic disparities in deaths have increased. Black (non-Hispanic) residents currently have the highest rate of overdose deaths among all racial/ethnic groups in New Jersey.

Among Black (non-Hispanic) residents, the rate of overdose deaths rose from 54.6 per 100,000 persons in 2020 to 65.9 per 100,000 persons in 2021. Among Hispanic residents, the rate rose from 24.6 per 100,000 to 25.9 per 100,000. In contrast, the rate of overdose deaths among White (non-Hispanic) residents decreased from 37.7 per 100,000 to 34.9 per 100,000.

 The outreach initiative is supported by approximately $200,000 as part of a four-year, $27.9 million grant from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the department that supports comprehensive prevention and surveillance strategies to address overdose in New Jersey, including providing resources to communities.

The program runs now through August. Organizations interested in receiving supplies or learning more may contact Outreach Coordinator Mariah Smith at

This initiative builds on ongoing Murphy Administration efforts to increase the accessibility of life-saving naloxone, including Naloxone365, which will provide free, anonymous, direct-to-consumer access at pharmacies.

In July, the state  Department of Human Services launched a Naloxone Distribution Program in partnership with NJDOH and the Office of the Attorney General, which allows eligible agencies the opportunity to request direct shipments of naloxone online anytime they need it.

In a related effort, NJDOH is also supporting increased capacity for mail-based naloxone distribution and statewide fentanyl test strip distribution to community-based outreach groups, local health departments, treatment centers and other community-based partners that engage people who use drugs.

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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.