Some at-risk New Jersey patients receiving prescriptions for opioids during the pandemic also must be given prescriptions for the overdose drug Naloxone under a new state directive.

New Jersey had 494 suspected overdose deaths in March and April, which is 60 more than the same months last year, according to the state Attorney General's Office.

Naloxone use was up over the same two-month span with 2,434 doses — 241 more than last year.

Under an administrative order issued Thursday, physicians, dentists and other healthcare practitioners must co-prescribe naloxone to certain at-risk patients continuously receiving opioids for chronic pain management during the public health crisis.

Patients considered at higher risk for fatal overdose are those with one or more prescriptions totaling 90 morphine milligram equivalents or more per day, or someone who is taking an opioid and a benzodiazepine at the same time.

The administrative order aligns with a rule proposed by the state Board of Medical Examiners in April.

State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said the move is aimed at saving lives while requiring fewer deployments of first responders as a way of preserving personal protective equipment.

The Administrative Order on co-prescribing may be in effect for the duration of the public health emergency or the state of emergency declared by Gov. Phil Murphy, whichever is longer.

According to Grewal's office, there also is significant concern that overdose numbers will increase due to all of the stressors associated with COVID-19, such as unemployment, grief and decreased access to social services.

Individuals seeking mental health and/or addiction services can find a list of available resources online at NJ CARES.

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