A WCBS Special Report Series, By Marla Diamond

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — If the opioid crisis has taught us anything, it is that no one is immune.

The Killer Tide of drug deaths has touched communities across our area and doesn’t discriminate in terms of race, ethnic background, or even financial status. The epidemic is killing people in cities and suburbs alike.

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In this week’s special report on the opioid crisis, we turn our attention to Bergen County, New Jersey, a bedroom community in the shadow of New York City. The leader in the fight against the opioid epidemic has been Prosecutor Gurbir Grewal, soon to be New Jersey’s next attorney general. New Jersey’s incoming Governor Phil Murphy made the announcement earlier this month.

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Can Grewal bring the experience he’s gathered in the opioid fight to Trenton?

Just weeks before he is to become the state’s top law enforcement official, Grewal sat down with WCBS reporter Marla Diamond to talk about his efforts to stem the tide of opioid deaths.

“I’ve made it a priority because I have had to,” Grewal told WCBS 880. “It’s the number one issue facing law enforcement in this county, in this state and in this country right now because of the number of young people dying.”

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While Grewal’s strategy has focused on treatment, prevention and law enforcement, his main push has been to see opioid addiction treated as a disease.

“What we are trying to do is bring together different stakeholders to address this not as a criminal justice issue, not as a law enforcement issue but as a public health crisis,” Grewal told Diamond.

A presentation about the opioid epidemic by Bergen County detectives at Mahwah High School. (credit: Marla Diamond/WCBS 880)

Just last week, Diamond watched two of Grewal’s detectives deliver the message to students at Mahwah High School.

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The presentation included photos displayed on a big screen on the stage showing the faces of addiction, one of them a young man who grew up not far from the school.

His name was Brendan Cole, a 22-year-old college graduate who died of an overdose in his Bergen County home four years ago. He had become addicted to prescription drugs after an injury in high school. His mother Gail told the students, “When you go down this path you don’t get a do-over. Starting these drugs is like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute.”

Bergen County detectives speak to students at Mahwah High School about the opioid epidemic. (credit: Marla Diamond/WCBS 880)

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Grewal says Bergen County saw 215 NARCAN saves in 2017. Another 104 people could not be saved.