Saint Peter’s Healthcare System launches new program to combat opioid abuse

Saint Peter’s Healthcare System in New Brunswick has launched a new initiative to combat opioid drug abuse in partnership with several public-interest 
groups and law-enforcement agencies in Central New Jersey.

The initiative, overseen by an opioid task force comprised of members of senior 
leadership, physicians, nurses, emergency services personnel, and pharmacy workers at 
Saint Peter’s Healthcare System, will emphasize education, community engagement, and alternatives to opioids for pain management.

Physicians and staff are being educated about pain management resources and opioid legislation. Education programs will be presented in public schools. A Narcan replacement program is being offered, and people who are addicted to opioids will be connected with recovery coaches. The program’s recovery coaches are recovering addicts with at least four 
years of sobriety who have been trained for more than 40 hours. They make initial contact 
with addicts and follow ups by phone. The hospital also has produced a guide to addiction services, an opioid risk assessment tool, and information about pain management resources on the Saint Peter’s website.

As part of the initiative, Saint Peter’s will host “The Opioid Epidemic: A Perspective
on Addiction,” from noon to 1 p.m. this Friday, Oct. 6, at the hospital. Speakers include Sayreville Police Chief John Zebrowski, Saint Peter’s Director of Community Health Services Marge Drozd, and Jean Stevenson, the mother of a young woman who died as the result of an opioid overdose.

“Prescription pain medication is the nation’s fastest-growing public health crisis, with 
upward of 9 million people in this country using prescription medications for 
non-medical uses,” said Linda Carroll, chief nursing officer at Saint Peter’s. 
“Opioid pain relievers are involved in more overdose deaths than cocaine and heroin 
combined. This is an insidious public health crisis unlike anything before.”

Each day, about 175 people die from a drug overdose in the United States. In 2016 alone, 1,230 people a week died from a drug overdose, up 22 percent from the previous year. Drug overdoses caused more deaths in 2015 (52,404) than firearms (36,252) or car crashes (38,300). Overdose deaths from opioids nearly quadrupled from 2000 to 2014, from 8,407 to 33,091 annually.​ ​

In New Jersey, Middlesex County had the highest growth rate for deaths associated with heroin for 2014, an increase of 420 percent in four years. ​

Public health experts offer the following guidelines as a means of prevention:​

– Prescription medications should be used exactly as prescribed.

– People should dispose of expired/unused medications at approved, secured drop boxes.

– Help and educational resources are available. No one is immune to opioid addiction.

“From my perspective as a community nurse, this is an epidemic that knows no
economic, racial or geographic limits,” Drozd said. “It’s so dangerous to our families and the social fabric of our neighborhoods. A solution must be found.”