(Camden, NJ) – The opioid epidemic has created a national public health crisis throughout the nation. One of the critical tools that first responders and front-line police officers are now carrying is called naloxone. This medication is an opioid antagonist and can in most instances make someone overdosing start breathing again by dislodging the opioid from the receptors in the brain.
The effects of opioids like heroin, fentanyl and OxyContin have proven deadly in Camden County and the country. Currently, about 110 people a day are dying of an opioid overdose throughout the nation. Furthermore, out of the thousands of nonfatal overdoses that occurred in Camden County in 2017 more than 277 residents died of a fatal overdose.
Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli talked about the importance of tearing down the obstacles to get access to this life saving antidote.
“For police today, having naloxone on their belt or in their car is no different than carrying their radios and handcuffs,” Cappelli said. “This is another tool that they can use to save a life and I’ve spoken to officers that have deployed it more than 25 different times to protect the sanctity of life.”
The county’s four major health care providers have agreed to make bulk purchases of Naloxone and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office to provide this pillar of harm reduction and lifesaving medication to our police officers. Hospital emergency departments have also been on the front lines of this battle administering naloxone on a regular basis as well working in tandem with law enforcement.
Cappelli called this new initiative and partnership groundbreaking for local law enforcement.
“As this epidemic continues to spread the ability to deploy Naloxone will become more important as the individuals on the front lines of this battle can immediately act when they find someone in distress,” Cappelli continued. “Many times, that is our local law enforcement and every day they are fighting to provide another chance for someone to detox, get clean, and find treatment. This new partnership will provide a critical tool to do just that and ensure that police have this tool with them on the streets.”
Joseph W. Devine, President of Jefferson Health, spoke of the impact the partnership can have on the community.
“For the past few years, Jefferson Health – New Jersey has been on the forefront of addressing the opioid crisis on several levels, from educating staff and area care providers and first-responders, to providing life-saving Narcan to police departments in both Gloucester and Camden counties,” said Devine. “The value of collaborative partnerships between health care organizations and law enforcement in battling this epidemic cannot be overstated – by working together can we made a real and lasting impact – and save lives. We are pleased to be part of this new county-wide effort.”
Dr. Jim Baird of Jefferson Washington Township Hospital presented a physician’s perspective on the opioid crisis.
“As a hospital emergency department physician, I have seen first-hand the devastation of opioid addiction,” said Dr. Baird. “I firmly believe that by working together, health care organizations, law enforcement, and community advocates and organizations can have a serious impact. The county-wide partnership being announced today is a tremendous step in helping to save lives of those suffering from the disease of addiction, and should be considered the beginning of a regional collaboration for the addiction epidemic we are facing.”
Eric Kupersmith, MD, said Senior Vice President and Chief Physician Executive at Cooper University Health Care, where the announcement was held, said no one is immune to addiction.
“Today, opioid addiction is plaguing our nation and destroying and taking the lives of thousands of people in all areas of our nation,” Dr. Kupersmith said. “This epidemic is hitting every community, no one is immune. Cooper is proud to take part in this effort to save even more lives.”
Paul Sarnese, Assistant Vice President of Safety, Security and Emergency Management Virtua talked about the collaboration.
“Virtua is proud to be a partner in this project to save lives and to give hope to those that are struggling with their addiction. None of us can tackle this on our own. The only way to defeat this epidemic is to work collaboratively together,” Sarnese explained. “This lifesaving medication that we are discussing today is a needed step. It will prove to be for some the first day of their new life of sobriety. That first day for them and their loved ones is far better than mourning their last.”
Mark Nessel, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for Lourdes Health System commented on the healthcare partners’ commitment to the community.
“Lourdes and its healthcare partners have a long history of working together to address the needs of our community. We are proud to be a part of this collaborative effort to facilitate the delivery of this life-saving medication,” Nessel said.
Chief Christopher Winters of the Pine Hill Police Department provided prospective from the law enforcement community.
“Although this program will have a positive financial impact for all law enforcement agencies in Camden County, the partnership of law enforcement and healthcare providers, working together with community stakeholders, will give communities the greatest opportunity to bring this health crisis to an end and appropriately respond to those affected,” Chief Winters said.
The Freeholder Board and Camden County Addiction Awareness Task Force use numerous outreach opportunities throughout the year to increase awareness of prescription opiate and heroin abuse and addiction, and they assist in the creation of programs to help educate residents of the resources available to prevent and treat addiction.
“The Freeholder Board invited students, parents, teachers, civic organizations, medical professionals, public health providers, law enforcement and religious leaders – just to name a few – to be part of the Addition Awareness Task Force,” Freeholder Director Cappelli said. “We did not limit who comprises the task force since this is an issue that touches every area of our community.”
The Addiction Awareness Task Force distributes educational literature throughout the county, holds community vigils and educational awareness events, and worked with local law enforcement to expand access to medication drop boxes. In addition, the task force’s naloxone training program has equipped Camden County residents with overdose prevention kits, and provided every law enforcement agency in Camden County with naloxone.
In February, the Freeholder Board filed a ground-breaking lawsuit against the drug companies, owners, manufacturers, distributors and retailers that ignited the opioid epidemic. The lawsuit was uniquely filed under racketeering statutes that deem these individuals owned and operated a criminal enterprise that marketed and shipped millions of highly addictive narcotics throughout the nation including Camden County.