As authorities look at more avenues to combat the heroin crisis in Ocean County and New Jersey, a warning has come from federal authorities that the purity level of the drug coming into the state has risen by 12 percent in the last three years.

An advisory issued by the Drug Enforcement Administration last week says the average purity level of heroin coming into New Jersey is 58 percent, one of the highest purity levels in the United States. Most of the heroin coming into the state is of South American origin and comes in through the seaports in Newark, Elizabeth and Philadelphia, according to the DEA.

In New Jersey, heroin contributed to 557 deaths last year, 112 of those in Ocean County. To try to put a stop to the epidemic, the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office has rolled out a number of initiatives that have begun to take root statewide as well, including a pawn shop database and strict liability prosecution of drug dealers.

While law enforcement looks at ways to battle the drug dealing, state legislators are set to introduce a package of 21 bills that will address the problem from the health care aspect, according to The bills would expand funding available to treatment providers and patients, increase oversight of state facilities and physicians, and reevaluate how the state’s educational community addresses prevention and recovery.

State Sen. Joseph Vitale (District 19) told he hopes the legislation will mark a shift in how New Jersey looks at addiction, addressing it as a mental health issue rather than a law enforcement problem.

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