Source: NJ Spotlight
The number of heroin overdoses in Toms River has fallen through the use of the opioid antidote naloxone, known by the trade name Narcan: by 25 in 2013, 22 last year and 19 so far this year, while the number of naloxone-aided overdose reversals has risen from 26 in 2014 to 48 last year and 54 so far this year.
But Toms River Police Chief Mitchell L. Little said some overdose victims refuse to be taken to a hospital for treatment, leaving them open to a quick return to drug use. That’s why, during the annual New Jersey State League of Municipalities conference, he called for changing state law or regulations to require those whose overdoses are reversed to be taken by police to a hospital for treatment, in the same way that emergency responders can involuntarily take people in psychiatric crises in for treatment if they think the pose a threat to themselves or others.
Little is hoping other municipal officials will support his call for requiring hospital visits for overdose victims. “Once we get our hands on them, we have to keep our hands on them,” Little said of overdose victims. “Because once they go out the door, the parents won’t sleep anymore, and they could potentially die at any minute. It’s crazy.”
It’s been difficult in Toms River to reduce the demand for drugs. The police department and a local hospital have been using naloxone so much that on a recent weekend, they ran out. “That’s how bad it is,” said Little, who’s increased the number of undercover narcotics officers from the two he had two years ago to six officers in the coming year.
Meanwhile, Gloucester Township is trying to reach people before they have a life-threatening episode, hiring a person to serve as a “drug advocate” in municipal court. They meet with defendants facing substance-related charges and urge them to seek treatment. While it isn’t mandatory, 47 percent of defendants have chosen that route, township mayor David Mayer said. “I believe that if we can get to them, steer them in the right direction, it’s going to change their lives.”
At the state level, the government is funding a $1 million, two-year pilot Opiate Overdose Recovery Program. Through the program, hospitals in Atlantic, Camden, Essex, Monmouth, and Ocean counties have counselors meet overdose victims in the emergency room to discuss treatment.
State Police Detective Sgt. First Class Jason Piotrowski warned that the state is seeing an uptick in fentanyl use this year. It’s a fast-acting prescription opioid that’s frequently deadly when abused. “We’re talking about heroin today, but we’re going to be talking about fentanyl tomorrow,” Piotrowski said.
Dr. Arturo Brito, deputy commissioner for the state Department of Health, reported that Gov. Chris Christie’s commitment to reducing addiction, as well as cooperation across state departments and “universal understanding that addiction is a disease,” is helping the state’s efforts.