Trenton—On Tuesday, November 18th Project Access, the Sterile Syringe Access Program at North Jersey Community Research Initiative (NJCRI) in Newark, will begin distributing the opioid antidote, naloxone (Narcan®) to clients at risk for opioid overdose. Following the launch, free overdose response trainings and naloxone kits will be available at NJCRI every Tuesday from 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm. In May of last year, Governor Chris Christie signed the Overdose Prevention Act, which provides legal protections for those who call for help in overdose situations and also expands access to naloxone. As a result of the law, at least 340 lives have been saved by first responders and community members equipped with naloxone.
Project Access is one of five Sterile Syringe Access Programs in New Jersey and the only one located in Essex County. With the launch of naloxone distribution, Project Access becomes the second Syringe Access Program in the state to give out the life-saving medication and the first in North Jersey. The South Jersey AIDS Alliance, which runs the Atlantic City’s syringe access program, has also provided over 1000 doses of naloxone to the peers and loved ones of individuals who are at risk for overdose.
Bob Baxter, Addiction, Prevention & Education Director at NJCRI says, “My staff and I are excited to implement this new program since many of the clients we serve every day are particularly vulnerable to opiate overdose. All of our programs at NJCRI promote public health and the Access Overdose Prevention Program will support both the safety and well-being of our clients by preventing deaths from overdose. Heroin use is epidemic in New Jersey and affects people regardless of race, ethnic group or socioeconomic status. This initiative will save lives and help keep families and communities intact.”
Overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in New Jersey and most overdose fatalities involve opioids like heroin or prescription painkillers. These deaths are almost entirely preventable. The majority of overdose victims do not actually die until several hours after they have taken a drug and most of these deaths occur in the presence of others, meaning that there is both time and opportunity to intervene. Access to naloxone empowers those on the scene of an opioid overdose to intervene quickly when every moment counts, mitigating the risk of brain damage and death. Naloxone is safe and easy to use and quickly reverses the respiratory depression associated with opioid overdose.
Brian McGovern Chief Executive Officer at NJCRI says, “According to newspaper reports published on Sept 14th 2014, the DEA indicated that last year 557 deaths in New Jersey were heroin related. This exceeds the deaths due to automobile accidents. We are grateful to the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) for providing us with naloxone to help us save lives in our immediate and surrounding communities.”
While advocates applaud this effective health-centered approach to opioid use, there is serious concern about where the programs will find funding for their life-saving work. “The opening of this program is an exciting moment in the campaign to reduce drug overdose deaths in New Jersey,” says Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “The program will save lives. But this program and the one in Atlantic City are operating on very small grants and we have no idea if continued funding can be found. The New Jersey Department of Human Services must fund these programs if they are to continue. There is no better investment the state can make in order to reduce overdose deaths.”
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