Legislators and Advocates to Celebrate One-Year Anniversary of Law's Signing
Trenton—An event commemorating the first anniversary of the signing of the Overdose Prevention Act will be held on Friday, May 2nd at the Old York Country Club in Chesterfield from 7:00-9:00 p.m. The gathering will feature brief remarks by several of the bill’s legislative sponsors, including Senator Joseph Vitale, Assemblyman Angel Fuentes, Assemblyman Charles Mainor and Assemblyman Dan Benson.
In New Jersey, drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death. More than 6,000 people have died from drug overdoses since 2004 and more than 700 people died in 2009 alone.
To mitigate these tragic numbers, Governor Christie signed the Overdose Prevention Act into law in May 2013 during a public ceremony featuring the singer Jon Bon Jovi, whose daughter benefitted from New York’s 911 Good Samaritan law when she suffered a drug overdose last year.
The law encourages people to seek emergency medical assistance in overdose situations by providing limited protection from arrest and prosecution for drug possession charges. It also allows for expanded access to the opioid overdose antidote naloxone.
“Drug overdose is a public health problem and should be addressed with public health solutions,” says Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Bringing together a range of groups including families, public health professionals, advocates and law enforcement, the Overdose Prevention Act is an effective public health solution that is saving lives in New Jersey. As we mark the one-year anniversary of this life-saving law, we look forward to working to expand the benefits of this law to all corners of our state.”
In the past year, state officials, private organizations and individual advocates have worked hard to implement the provisions of the new law. In June 2013, Acting Attorney General John Hoffman issued a directive reminding prosecutors and police of the legal immunity granted under the act. The Drug Policy Alliance has distributed thousands of informational posters and palm cards in both English and Spanish.
Last month, Governor Christie issued a clarifying waiver explicitly allowing first responders to carry and administer naloxone, as well as announced a state-sponsored naloxone program in Ocean and Monmouth counties that will train and equip police officers with the medication. The Ocean County Prosecutor’s office recently reported that police officers saved six lives in less than a month through use of naloxone, and first responders have already documented a saved life.
As a result of the law, the South Jersey AIDS Alliance in Atlantic City established the first naloxone distribution program in the state in November of last year. They have distributed hundreds of life-saving kits and received numerous reports of successful reversals, including a mother who was able to revive her daughter. The program relies on a small grant from the Drug Policy Alliance that will only stretch so far and is soliciting donations to sustain their efforts.
In addition, several advertising companies have donated billboard space across the state detailing the legal protections provided under the new law.
Paul Ressler of Hamilton lost his son Corey in 2010 and is the prime organizer of the commemorative event. He says, “The Overdose Prevention Act is perhaps the most important piece of legislation related to the disease of addiction, evidenced by numerous reports of overdose reversals with naloxone. We must continue the fight to save lives. Our goal is to reach one hundred percent participation of all the police departments in the State of New Jersey.”
Patty DiRenzo of Blackwood lost her son Salvatore to an overdose when he was only 26 years old and was an instrumental force in securing the passage of the Overdose Prevention Act. She states, “I am overjoyed to be a part of the planning for the Overdose Prevention Act Commemoration. It is wonderful to come together and celebrate the lives that have been saved and the lives that will continue to be saved by this great legislation and also in honoring those we lost. I thank everyone who helped make this happen.”