Cape May County freeholders: We’re doing all we can on opioids

Source: Shore News Today
The Cape May County Board of Chosen Freeholders held a meeting of the county’s governing body what was being done to fight addiction, and what more could be done.
Cape May County has wrestled for years with what officials have described as an epidemic of heroin and opioid addiction. At a meeting last September, then-County Prosecutor Robert Taylor reported 24 people had died that year from heroin overdoses, and another 99 were saved by the emergency application of Narcan, a medication that blocks the effects of opioids.
Freeholder Jeffrey Pierson described the county Prosecutor’s Office as the tip of the spear. Led by Prosecutor Jeffrey Sutherland, Pierson said the office works to keep heroin and other illegal drugs form getting into the county. Last year, the county hired six more people for the office. “They work very hard throughout the county to try to eradicate distribution,” Pierson said.
But Freeholder Leonard Desiderio said arrests are not enough. “I don’t believe that we can jail our way out of this problem. We need to get some help for these individuals.”
Both Desiderio and Gerald Thornton, the director of the freeholder board, talked up the county’s drug courts, which try to get people into treatment rather than jail. The program is expanding, he said, with extensive renovations planned for the third floor of the Superior Court building on Route 9 in Cape May Court House to accommodate drug court.
Thornton said those indicted on a drug offense in the program must submit to weekly drug tests. “If they test hot, they’re immediately taken to the county jail,” he said. And Thornton praised the work of nongovernmental organizations like Cape Counseling, a not-for-profit behavioral health agency, and Cape Assist, a drug abuse prevention program. Pierson praised the Prosecutor’s Office for its work on drug education in schools and communities.
But ultimately, the issue is real and growing, and county officials indicated it may be beyond their resources. “Of course this is not just Cape May County,” said Pierson. “This is a state issue, and a national issue. We are working hard on this, believe me.” Thornton called for a regional approach from the state, addressing the issue throughout South Jersey. He said he plans to meet with the prosecutor on the issue Friday morning, March 16.
“It is affecting all walks of life in Cape May County,” Desiderio said. “It’s not only the young. I too know of someone who overdosed last week — the funeral was on Saturday.” Desiderio described the person who overdosed as a professional from a good family.
After the meeting, Lilly Mullock, a 2017 Rutgers graduate who attended Cape May County Technical High School, said she still had questions and did not plan to give up pushing for better answers. “I’m just really sick of looking on Facebook and finding out that someone else has died,” she said after the meeting.
“I’ll be back,” she added.

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