A group of local hospitals agreed to replenish the police-administered naloxone supplies of all law enforcement agencies countywide free of charge, providing streamlined access to the medication that reverses the effects of otherwise potentially fatal drug overdoses.
Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Rahway, Overlook Medical Center in Summit and Trinitas Medical Center, in Elizabeth, all recently signed memorandums of understanding with the Prosecutor’s Office pledging to provide new naloxone supplies on a quarterly, on-demand basis, with quantities dependent on how many departments need to replace used or expired stock.
"We greatly appreciate our partnership with Atlantic Health, Robert Wood Johnson, and Trinitas," acting Union County Prosecutor Grace Park said earlier this week, when representatives of the hospitals met with members of law enforcement at the Ralph Froehlich Union County Public Safety Building in Westfield to mark the launch of the agreements. "This is a testament to the fact that when it comes to the fight against prescription drug and opioid abuse, we’re all in this together."
The memorandums of understanding are valid for a period of two years and can be renewed. The Prosecutor’s Office and members of the administrative teams at the three hospitals also agreed to meet semi-annually to review the rate of police-administered use of naloxone (also known by its brand name, Narcan) in Union County and to adjust distribution accordingly.
"We are optimistic that by participating in a county-wide Narcan replacement program with the our local law enforcement agents, we can prevent unnecessary deaths and get people the help they need," added Ann Marie Shears, Vice President of Patient Services and Chief Nursing Officer at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Rahway.
Use of naloxone by law enforcement officers in Union County began in July 2014, when the Prosecutor’s Office distributed a total of 200 Narcan kits to the county’s 21 municipal police departments. Federal forfeiture funds were used to cover the initial costs, and officers in every department underwent training illustrating precisely how to administer the medication via nasal spray to citizens suffering a drug overdose.
Police departments in Union County reported a combined total of 62 naloxone deployments in 2015. Through October 27, 2016, a total of 128 deployments had been reported to date during the current year, with all but four of the 128 recipients having survived.
Union County Police Chiefs Association President and Rahway Police Chief John Rodger and Union County Sheriff Joseph P. Cryan both also voiced their support and gratitude for the new partnerships.
"With the unfortunately drastic increases in drug overdoses we as law enforcement agencies have been encountering, and as we administer Narcan to save lives, it is a great relief and a very welcomed union to have this collaboration with Atlantic Health System, Robert Wood Johnson, and Trinitas," said Springfield Police Chief John Cook, First Vice President of the Chiefs Association.
"It is unfortunate in the current social climate that no community is immune from the effects of opioid abuse and addiction," added Garwood Police Chief Bruce Underhill, Second Vice President of the Association. "Happily, this program provides a fighting chance to an overdose victim for both survival and then recovery. "
A total of 231 people have suffered fatal drug overdoses in Union County since 2011, according to statistics kept by the Prosecutor’s Office’s Intelligence Unit. That figure includes 34 victims to date in 2016.