- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 17, 2014

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - Law enforcement officers across New Jersey will now carry a drug that can be used to quickly reverse heroin overdoses.

Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday announced the statewide expansion of a pilot program that allows police to carry and administer naloxone, which can reverse overdoses that would otherwise likely be fatal.

State troopers and police in all 21 counties will now be trained to administer the drug alongside 28,000 certified EMTs, who received waivers allowing them to carry it in March.

Police in Ocean and Monmouth counties have been using the drug since April under a pilot program officials have credited with saving more than 40 lives so far.

“These are 40 individuals who now have a second chance at life,” said Christie at a press conference outside of the Rescue Mission of Trenton, which offers drug treatment programs. “It means more than 40 individuals have hope, it means that 40 families got their children, their brothers, their sisters, their fathers or mothers back to them.”

The Republican governor - a former prosecutor and potential 2016 presidential contender - has spoken personally about the devastation of substance abuse, publicly recounting the story of a friend from law school who died in his early 50s after a long struggle with prescription painkillers.

During the press conference, he stressed the need for treatment as an alternative to incarceration and again criticized the nation’s war on drugs, calling it a “well-intentioned” but “abject failure.”

“What we need to understand is that this is a disease and we need to treat this disease and give folks who have it the tools to deal with it,” Christie said.

Naloxone can be administered nasally or by injection, and is commonly marketed under the brand name Narcan.

Its impact has been especially powerful in Ocean County, said Al Della Fave, a spokesman for the county prosecutor’s office. This time last year, the county had logged 61 overdose deaths, he said. This year to date, they’ve seen just 29.

“Once we get this thing across the board, at all 21 counties, it’s just telling how many lives we can turn around,” Della Fave said.

But Daniel Watkins, 33, a patient at the center who said he spent a year addicted to heroin after struggling with prescription and other illegal drugs, said an emergency treatment like Narcan is only the beginning.

“You have to save the life after saving the life,” he said.