(Camden, NJ) – Seven months ago the Freeholder Board, Camden County Chief’s Association and healthcare providers came to the table with a plan to fund the life-saving tool, naloxone, for all police officers in the county. Since that time more than 480 naloxone reversals were deployed county-wide providing a critical antidote to the fatal effects of an opioid induced overdose.
Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli lauded the healthcare systems for tearing down the obstacles to get access to this life saving antidote and applauded the officers on the street administering it.
“For police today, having naloxone on their belt or in their car is no different than carrying their radio, handcuffs and firearm,” 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 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 throughout the nation. Currently, about 120 people a day are dying of an opioid overdose throughout the country. Furthermore, out of the thousands of nonfatal overdoses that occurred in Camden County in 2017 more than 277 residents died of a fatal overdose.
Cappelli called this partnership extremely successful and model for other counties.
“As this epidemic continues to evolve, individuals on the front lines of the crisis must have the ability to 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. Based on the first six months this new partnership has already paid extensive dividends to the residents of Camden County.”
In 2018, a memorandum of understanding was signed by the county’s four healthcare providers 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.
Joseph W. Devine, President of Jefferson Health-New Jersey, spoke of the impact the partnership can have on the community.
“Our healthcare organization, which has been on the forefront of addressing the opioid crisis on several levels, has seen first-hand the incredible impact of providing the antidote Narcan to area law enforcement officials,” Devine said. “We are honored to be part of this impactful and valuable county-wide program. The value of collaborative partnerships between health care organizations and law enforcement in battling this epidemic cannot be overstated – by working together, we have, and will continue to make a real and lasting impact in saving lives.”
Adrienne Kirby, PhD, Executive Chair and Chief Executive Officer at Cooper University Health Care, where the original announcement was held, said no one is immune to addiction.
“We are happy to be part of this lifesaving program, but the statistics remind us of how devastating the opioid crisis has become, and how addiction affects all cross sections of our community — men and women of all ages, races, ethnic backgrounds, and socio-economic circumstances,” said Kirby. “We are hopeful for the day when such a program is not needed.”
The aggregate number being presented only accounts for deployments by law enforcement personnel and does not take into consideration other first responders administering naloxone. In addition, the total number also does not include deployments by private citizens or emergency department personnel.
Jefferson Dr. Jim Baird of Jefferson Washington Township Hospital said the county-wide program has proven highly-successful in saving lives.
“As an Emergency Department physician, I have seen first-hand the devastation of opioid addiction,” Baird said. “By working together, healthcare organizations, law enforcement, elected officials, and community advocates and organizations can, and are, helping save lives. The Camden County Narcan program has proven an important first step in regional collaboration to combat the opioid epidemic we all face.”
Other participating health care providers talked about the impact of the program and law enforcement also weighed in on the initiative.
Paul Sarnese, Assistant Vice President of Safety, Security and Emergency Management Virtua talked about the collaboration.
“This project is an excellent example of the positive impact we can have on our communities when we partner to tackle a public health crisis. Virtua is proud to be a part of this effort to save lives and give hope to those who are struggling with addiction.”
Mark Nessel, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for Lourdes Health System commented on the healthcare partners’ commitment to the community.
“The Opioid Crisis knows no demographic or geographic boundary, so it is imperative that our community and hospital partners utilize a collaborative approach,” Nessel said. “At Lourdes Health System, we have been proud to partner with Camden County along with Burlington County, where we have held a longstanding Narcan donation agreement.”
Chief Christopher Winters of the Pine Hill Police Department provided prospective from the law enforcement community.
“The partnership between law enforcement and all of the hospitals operating within Camden County is essential in combating this public health crisis,” Winters said. “While law enforcement and first responders are many times on the front lines in dealing with opioid related overdoses, this partnership goes beyond the deployment of Narcan.”
Winters continued to talk about how the program is helping to facilitate a dialogue with healthcare providers.
“After saving the life of an individual suffering from an overdose, providing the opportunity for a second or even third chance, many times we as law enforcement are left asking, ‘what is the next step?’ The open lines of communication between law enforcement and medical professionals within Camden County and dedication to working together in addressing the ‘next step’ has allowed for greater access to the treatment necessary to truly save the life of an individual suffering from addiction.”