After using a drug to reverse opiate overdoses hundreds of times, police in New Jersey have discovered another problem: The people they save often cannot get into treatment programs right away and some go right back to their life-threatening habits.

Narcan Kit (Ilya Hemlin, Townsquare Media NJ)

Officials in at least two counties are trying to address that now.

The Board of Freeholders in Camden County on Wednesday announced a new program to move patients who agree to participate from emergency rooms to detox programs and intensive outpatient treatment while they wait for beds in inpatient treatment centers to become available.

Operation SAL, named for a 26-year-old man who died of a heroin overdose, is to be launched in the coming weeks on a trial basis. The county is using $150,000, some of it from a homelessness prevention fund, to pay for detoxification and treatment of 50 people who end up in emergency rooms after receiving naloxone from police, emergency medical technicians or others. The overdose-reversing drug is often called by the brand name Narcan.

The announcement was made at a lunch to honor the police in the county who have used the drug to revive more than 300 people since last year, when departments first started equipping officers with naloxone.

Patty DiRenzo, the mother of the program's namesake, Sal Marchese, said her son wanted help with his heroin addiction but had trouble getting into treatment and staying there when he could, largely because of insurance issues. He died five years ago.

She said the program could make a difference for people in her son's situation. "We're giving them that next step into recovery," said DiRenzo, who is a member of the county's addiction awareness task force.

The Ocean County Prosecutor's Office has been running a similar program since earlier this year with the cooperation of area health care providers. Overdose patients in that program are visited in the hospital by counselors who help them with treatment options.

 

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