NEW JERSEY (WABC) -- The state of New Jersey is giving away free naloxone this week as overdose rates increase during the coronavirus pandemic, putting the potentially life-saving antidote in as many hands as possible.
Residents can obtain free naloxone at 322 participating pharmacies without providing name or a prescription from September 24-26.
"You actually can just walk up to the pharmacist and say you'd like your free Narcan, and they will give it to you," said Carole Johnson, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Human Services.
Related: United States surpasses 200,000 reported COVID-19 deaths
The state is prepared to give out 72,000 free doses in an effort to battle the opioid epidemic.
"We have seen some real challenges at the peak of the (COVID) pandemic," Johnson said. "We worked really hard to make sure our mental health providers and substance abuse centers could remain open...but it was still very challenging."
Between March and July of this year, there were almost 1,300 suspected overdose deaths. By comparison, the state saw just under 1,200 in all of 2019.
The highest number of cases are in Essex, Camden and Ocean counties, with Atlantic, Middlesex and Passaic counties seeing relatively high numbers too.
Related: Drug overdose increase in Connecticut linked to coronavirus pandemic
The goal of the free Narcan giveaway is to get these numbers down.
"So we started last year with a one-day event with pharmacies that raised their hand and said they'd be willing to partner with us," Johnson said. "This year, we've made it three days. Almost double the number of pharmacies agreed to come in and help us with this."
The goal is to make access to the drug as easy and widespread as possible.
"What we know is that those precious minutes count, and that there's a simple tool to help save that life," Johnson said. "And so we want to get that tool into as many hands as possible."
CLICK HERE to find a participating pharmacy.
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New Jersey giving away 72,000 doses of Narcan to combat drug overdoses