A weapon against NJ’s heroin epidemic: Information
With the heroin epidemic continuing to get worse all over the Garden State, new efforts are underway to try and slow down and stop it.
In Hunterdon County, A new program called START — Steps to Action Recovery and Treatment — has been launched.
Hunterdon Prosecutor Anthony Kearns said first-responders are now carrying and administering Narcan, the heroin antidote drug that can save the life of an OD victim, but more needs to be done.
“While we felt that was so important to save the person’s life and give them a second chance, we felt there was a void between the life-saving medication and then just going back out onto the street, so we put together packets of information, providing the individual or their family with various treatment opportunities and options, phone numbers, self-help groups,” he said. “We’ve given them to our firs- responders, so that if they’re in the position that they need to administer the Narcan, that they will leave that packet with the family or the individual."
Kearns said his office is also working the Hunterdon County jail and the Somerset County jail.
“We want to make sure that when somebody is lodged in the jail for a drug related offense that before they’re released that they also receiver this information,” he said.
He added law enforcement in Hunterdon has a great partnership with the Safe Communities coalition, the group that helped to put the packets together, and as of last week it's also working with Hunterdon Medical Center and its emergency rooms.
“It’s to make sure these packets are available to them, that if someone is treated for a drug related reason, that they too will receive this information,” Kearns said.
In the past, “we’ve had a terrible problem with cocaine and crack, the current heroin and prescription drug epidemic, but I don’t believe to the extent that it is today," Kearns said.
According to Kearns, massive year-to-year increases in heroin overdoses convinced law enforcement to utilize Narcan, develop the START program and create drug education programs in schools.
"We’re working with the faith based community, because it’s our belief that while we have a role in this fight against this epidemic, we’re not going to win it alone,” he said.
He added “if we can get as many partners involved and address it on as many fronts as we can, that’s what we’re going to do. It’s a multifaceted approach and that’s the only way we’re going to make headway.”
A hospital in Paterson has launched an opioid-alternative program to cut down on the abuse of the drugs that have helped to fuel a deadly crisis.
St. Joseph's Regional Medical Center has been using opioid alternative protocols in its emergency room since January. According to Mark Rosenberg, chairman of emergency medicine at the hospital, the goal is to try to treat most patients without opioids before considering using them.’
"All chronic pain starts with acute pain. We also know that all drug abuse starts with the first dose," Rosenberg said. "If we can stop using opioids before we give the first dose, then people won't become addicted."
In the first two months of the program, 75 percent of the 300 patients that have gone through the Alternatives to Opiates (ALTO) program did not need opioids, Rosenberg said. Doctors are instead are using non-opioid medications — such as acetaminophen or anti-inflammatory drugs — and procedures that block nerve pain.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.