Cape May county is fighting back against its opioid abuse epidemic that places the county third-worst in the state.

County Prosecutor Jeffrey Sutherland says they are diverting low-level drug offenders in a special court toward treatment.

"Our Drug Court judge has been very aggressive in increasing the numbers in that program," he said.

"We work in conjunction with the judge on cases being submitted to that program. What we are trying to do is get back to the beginning of the problem, and what I mean by that is try to get in touch with the people even before they are in the criminal justice system."

Since the beginning of this year, Cape May County has had 16 suspected overdose deaths. The overdose antidote naxolone has been administered 96 times, according to state data. As of July 1, there have been 1,499 suspected overdose deaths in the state.

Sutherland defended the county's ranking for the opioid problem, saying that the death rate may not take into account the fact that the county's year-round population of 95,000 does not include the summer visitors and tourists who push the seasonal population close to a million.

Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak, D-Cape May, says he is part of the state effort to change drug charges for small amounts in order to keep people from being locked up.

"We want to punish the really bad people who are the dealers, and we really want to help out the people that are abusing but, at the same time, also suffering."

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