Five cities in New Jersey, including Paterson, are launching Opioid Response Teams to tackle opioid addiction and overdose deaths.
Each Opioid Response Team (ORT) will consist of a police officer, an emergency medical service specialist, and a substance abuse recovery advocate, said New Jersey attorney general Gurbir Grewal at City Hall on Wednesday morning.
“Our traditional approach to this epidemic has not been working,” said Grewal in announcing $150,000 in grant funds for Paterson. “We tried to come up with a new, innovative approach that treats this crisis as what it is, not a law enforcement issue but rather a public health crisis.”
Funding for the program runs for 19 months from Oct. 2019 through Jun. 2021.
Grewal said teams will respond to overdose scenes day and night. Team members will provide on-scene support, information, and referral to treatment and recovery programs. He said the team will also conduct outreach to educate people about the dangers of opioids.
“We have a serious situation,” said mayor Andre Sayegh citing an episode of “Live Rescue” that featured Paterson fire responding to 12 overdoses during a two-hour period. “This is a fight we have to win.”
From Jan. to Sept. 2019 there are 20 fatal overdose deaths in Paterson, said Passaic County prosecutor Camelia Valdes. She said that’s down from 42 fatal overdoses during the same period in 2018.
“That doesn’t mean we don’t have much work to do,” said the prosecutor. “We should not rest on our laurels.”
Other cities getting funding for their own response teams are Newark, Camden, Trenton, and Toms River. State officials divided $749,999 received from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance to the cities heavily affected by the opioid epidemic.
Over the last five years, drug overdoses claimed 10,000 lives in New Jersey. 196 people died in 2018 from drug overdoses in Passaic County. There were 768 Narcan administrations in Passaic County last year, said the attorney general.
“Even those numbers understate the scope of this problem because they don’t capture Narcan administrations done by family and friends at home and at ER setting,” said Grewal.
2,000 people were arrested on drug charges in Paterson last year, according to the attorney general.