BY ERIKA NORTON

For the second year in a row, the life expectancy for Americans has decreased, and researchers suspect the rise in opioid overdoses is likely to blame.

The increased use of prescription painkillers, heroin and even more potent opiates like fentanyl, continues to take its toll on local communities, making the opioid epidemic a top concern for district attorneys and police chiefs.

As part of ongoing reporting on the prescription opioid and heroin epidemic, Straus News sent Freedom of Information requests to local police chiefs to share information about drug arrests compared to last year, this time looking at months of July, August and September of each year.

In May, Straus News published a report comparing drug arrests within the first three months of 2016 and 2017. Then in September, Straus News published a report comparing drug arrests within the next three months of 2016 and 2017.

The intent is to look more closely at the number of arrests by location. The infographic shows the number of drug arrests compared to the number of non-drug arrests over July, August and September of 2016 versus July, August and September of 2017 in each municipality.

Due to the increase in awareness of the opioid epidemic, it was expected that there would be more drug arrests made in 2017 than in 2016. While this was the case in some places, it was not in the majority of those Straus News received information from in Sussex County, including the Borough of Franklin, the Borough of Hamburg, Vernon Township and West Milford Township in Passaic County.

Sparta Township saw an increase in the percent of drug arrests, jumping from zero drug arrests between July and September of 2016 to 30 percent of all arrests between July and September of this year.

While West Milford Township in Passaic County saw a slight decrease in drug-related arrests, a drop from 17 percent between July and September of 2016 to 15 percent between July and September of this year.

Countywide, overdose deaths from deaths due to heroin, prescription medications and other drugs in Sussex County increased last year, according to the C.L.E.A.R. (Community, Law Enforcement, Addiction, Recovery) program, a program teaming up municipal law enforcement agencies have teamed up with treatment centers aimed at addressing the epidemic within the county.

In 2016, the Sussex County area had 36 overdose deaths due to heroin, prescription medications and other drugs, according to C.L.E.A.R. In the same year, there were 52 overdoses where Narcan, or the life-saving medication used to treat an opioid overdose, was administered by law enforcement.

In New Jersey, drug arrests range from smaller offenses such as possession of less than 50 grams of marijuana, to distribution or possession with intent to distribute heroin or cocaine in a quantity of five ounces or more, a first-degree offense. With a charge of possession of less than 50 grams of marijuana, an individual can face a disorderly persons offense, which carries up to six months in prison and/or a fine of $1,000, where as a distribution of heroin or cocaine in a quantity of five ounces or more can carry a 20-year maximum prison sentence.