Program is the Result of Life-Saving Legislation Signed by Governor Christie
Advocates Applaud Program’s Potential to Prevent Needless Deaths
Trenton—South Jersey AIDS Alliance (SJAA) launched New Jersey’s first naloxone distribution overdose prevention program today. The program is located at SJAA’s Oasis Drop-In Center in Atlantic City. This groundbreaking initiative is the result of the enactment of the Overdose Prevention Act signed by Governor Chris Christie in May at a public event surrounded by supportive parents and advocates and joined by rocker Jon Bon Jovi.
The act allows for broader access to the opioid overdose antidote naloxone (also known as Narcan), by providing explicit criminal and civil protection to medical professionals who prescribe the medication and laypeople who administer it in overdose situations. The act also provides protection from arrest for drug possession for those who call for help in an overdose situation.
The program at SJAA will provide naloxone free of charge to individuals at risk for overdose, as well as to family members and peers who might be in a position to help someone experiencing an overdose.
The opening of the naloxone program coincides with the sixth anniversary of the opening of New Jersey’s first sterile syringe access program, also run by South Jersey AIDS Alliance. Because SJAA is already seeing so many individuals at risk for opioid overdose, it offers the perfect location for the launch of the state’s first naloxone program.
Advocates applaud the program as a crucial step in realizing the life-saving potential of the Overdose Prevention Act. “This is a huge step forward in the fight against overdose deaths in New Jersey,” says Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director for Drug Policy Alliance. “Drug overdose is a public health problem and this program provides an effective public health solution.”
Georgett Watson, COO of South Jersey AIDS Alliance, is enthusiastic that the program is consistent with her organization’s commitment to advancing public health: “Naloxone distribution prevents unnecessary deaths, thereby making it possible for the most vulnerable people to access important resources such as medical care and drug treatment. We are excited to offer another crucial service that will enhance the safety and well-being of our clients, their families, and their communities.”
Overdose is a major public health problem and the leading cause of accidental death in New Jersey. These deaths are entirely preventable. Witnesses to opioid overdose can administer naloxone while waiting for professional medical help to arrive. Naloxone has no addictive properties and few side effects, making it safe for laypeople to administer. Clients who have naloxone prescribed and dispensed to them through the program will be educated about how to recognize and appropriately respond to opioid overdose, including the importance of calling 911 in addition to administering naloxone.
Jill LaZare, who lost her daughter Brooke to an accidental overdose is part of a coalition of parents who advocated for the passage of the Act and supports expanded access to naloxone. LaZare stated, “I am extremely excited about the start of the program and firmly believe that my daughter Brooke would still be alive today if she was able to access naloxone from the syringe exchange where she was a participant.”
Sixteen other states, Virginia, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, North Carolina, Oregon, Colorado, Kentucky, Maryland, Vermont, Oklahoma and Washington State, as well as the District of Columbia, have enacted similar laws providing legal protection from civil or criminal liability for medical professionals and laypeople who prescribe or administer naloxone to those at risk for drug overdose death.
The program at South Jersey AIDS Alliance will serve as a model for other naloxone distribution programs to be run by syringe access programs and health organizations as the initiative expands to different parts of New Jersey.