Atlantic Health System and Local Police Team up to Tackle Drug Abuse
For people you know and those you see in the news, drug abuse is ending in unexpected death – in a bedroom, in a parked car or even at a stoplight – from accidental overdose of common “opioid” medicines like oxycodone (such as OxyContin®) and hydrocodone (such as Vicodin®).
Here in New Jersey, local police are working with a team at Atlantic Health System to prevent these tragic, accidental deaths – right at the site of an overdose. Death in these cases often comes before an ambulance can arrive, because opioids slow breathing to the point that breathing can stop.
“Local police came to us, wanting to prevent these deaths,” says Alan Robinson, former director of protection and security for Atlantic Health System. “They realized that they’re in the business of saving lives, and so are we. They were thinking outside the box.”
Teamwork Saves Lives
In a multipronged program, police are now able to give people what might be their only hope of life after overdose. Atlantic Health System provides police with the drug naloxone, or Narcan®, to reverse these drug overdoses within minutes, as well as the training to give the medicine. It puts the person into withdrawal, so after the Narcan is administered in the field, they go to an emergency department for additional care.
Next Step: Tackling Addiction
During the patient’s emergency room care, crisis intervention staff assess clinical needs and offer treatment options, says Lori Ann Rizzuto, LCSW, director of behavioral and integrative health services for Atlantic Health System. “Peer support, from people who are successfully recovering from addiction, is another important link and will soon be offered in collaboration with our crisis clinicians.”
Atlantic Health System works with several prevention agencies to support its mission of implementing peer recovery support specialists in its emergency rooms, including Prevention Links in Union County and Center for Prevention and Counseling in Sussex County. A community-based program, administered by Morris County Prevention Is Key, trains individuals how to recognize and properly respond to an opioid overdose. Individuals at risk of an opioid overdose, their family, friends and loved ones are eligible for a free kit.
“The Opioid Overdose Prevention Program gets the lifesaving drug, Narcan, into the hands of our community members where it can be administered at the first signs of overdose. Narcan saves lives and gives those who overdose an opportunity to get help for their addiction. Since the inception of the program in November 2016, we have trained over 1,200 people and distributed over 800 Narcan Rescue Kits,” says Melody Runyon, associate director of Morris County Prevention Is Key. It’s also available at some drug stores without a prescription.
Lives Saved, Futures Reclaimed
The effort and planning has involved a diverse group of staff at Atlantic Health System, and it has grown to include many local government, law enforcement and community groups, Robinson says.
The program has been a success. Police in one county alone, with the support of the staff of Atlantic Health System, have used Narcan to save the life of one person every eight to nine days, on average.