While Governor Christie continues to flirt with his no-shot bid at the GOP presidential nomination, dithers on meaningful policy, and blusters on about meager funding for treatment, local leaders in NJ are the ones making an actual difference in the Garden State.
Patty DiRenzo and the Camden County Addiction Awareness Task Force continue to lead the way on implementing innovative drug policies at the municipal and county levels. Ms. DiRenzo was one of the many vocal forces behind the passage of the 2013 Overdose Protection Act and then fought for Narcan expansion last year. Narcan is an anti-overdose drug that is “nonaddictive, nontoxic and easy to administer through nasal, intramuscular or intravenous application. It reverses the effects of an opioid overdose by essentially blocking the opioid receptors that are targeted by heroin and many prescription painkillers.”* People that would otherwise die can be saved. Since its expansion in June of 2014, the application of Narcan has saved over 300 lives in Camden County alone. It is now available without a prescription at CVS in 12 states, including NJ.
I spoke about the advantages of Narcan at the 2013 NASW-NJ conference, and one audience member asked me if it was “a good idea to encourage people that we can bring them back from an overdose?” A few friends of mine were in attendance, and they half expected me to flip out. I wanted to (a brief aside here…I deal with idiocy, selfishness and figurative blindness at most public events that I attend or speak at, but I am wise enough to know that yelling, cursing, belittling or mocking are not the correct response).
I paused, looked at the woman and said, “I assure you the alternative is grim. I have met with hundreds of parents whose kids have died. If we could give them 1 more day, heck, 3 more hours with their kid, they would take that time and treasure it. The only time that it is too late to change the course of your life is when you are dead. We are social workers. We know this.”
Over the last two years, others have asked me more nuanced questions. The best ones sound something like, “So we save them with Narcan but then don’t help them get more services. That doesn’t make sense. Can’t we send them to treatment so that we aren’t just giving them Narcan and then releasing them back to the street?” That is an excellent point, but it requires policy change, willing partners, treatment beds and funding.
On October 7th, Camden County announced Operation Sal, a local initiative that has $150,000 in funding to help people revived on Narcan go to detox and then attend treatment. All four hospitals in Camden County are participating, law enforcement has been alerted and is on board, and patients will be sent to Delaware Valley Medical. This is the ideal next step after Narcan. Kudos, Camden County, and thank you.