Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato and the 9th Legislative District legislators have found additional support for the fight against what officials are calling a heroin and prescription drug abuse epidemic in Ocean County.

State Sen. Jim Holzapfel and Assemblymen Dave Wolfe and Greg McGuckin of the 10th Legislative District recently met with Coronato to discuss needed changes.

The legislators said they are working alongside the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office to reassess and enhance current state law to allow for more severe penalties for the distribution of specific drugs and to combat the growing heroin epidemic.

"While there is no quick fix for the growing number of overdoses and heroin-related deaths, we must target the distributors. Prescription pill abuse is the new gateway to heroin addiction," the 10th District legislators stated. "Our residents and children need to be educated about the deadly effects before this epidemic gets worse."

In May, 9th District legislators joined with Coronato when they unveiled legislation that would strengthen state law by permitting drug dealing offenses to be graded by dosage units instead of the weight of controlled dangerous substances, including heroin.

The move came after nine people died of heroin doses over a span of eight days across Ocean County.

The 10th District legislators have moved to sponsor that legislation from the 9th District legislators.

The 10th District representatives will also sponsor a bill that seeks to increase participation in the state's electronic Prescription Monitoring Program, which collects data on prescriptions dispensed for all controlled and dangerous substances. The bill is intended to prevent the diversion, abuse and illegal sale of prescription drugs. It encourages doctors to participate in the program and increase information sharing to ensure that prescriptions are also being monitored from state to state.

"Ocean County has seen 71 drug overdose deaths to date. We have far surpassed the 2012 total of 53 with another five months ahead," Coronato said. "To address this crisis I need more than the help of law enforcement partners, educators, rehab health care professionals and parents."

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