NJ expands overdose antidote program to all 21 counties


TRENTON — Law enforcement officers across New Jersey will now carry a drug that can be used to quickly reverse heroin overdoses.

Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday announced the statewide expansion of a pilot program that allows police to carry and administer naloxone, which can reverse overdoses that would otherwise likely be fatal.

New Jersey State Police troopers and police in all 21 counties will be trained to administer the drug alongside 28,000 certified EMTs, who received waivers permitting them to carry it in March.

Police in Ocean and Monmouth counties have been using the drug since April under a pilot program officials have credited with saving more than 40 lives so far.

“These are 40 individuals who now have a second chance at life,” Christie said at a news conference outside the Rescue Mission of Trenton, which offers drug treatment programs. “It means more than 40 individuals have hope. It means that 40 families got their children, their brothers, their sisters, their fathers or mothers back to them.”

Burlington County began training officers earlier this month. So far, 65 have received training, among them Palmyra Detective Shawn Benedict, who attended the news conference with Burlington County Prosecutor Robert D. Bernardi.

The Prosecutor’s Office also has provided funding to local police departments to cover the initial expense of purchasing naloxone for the officers.

The Republican governor — a former prosecutor and potential 2016 presidential contender — has spoken personally about the devastation of substance abuse, publicly recounting the story of a friend from law school who died in his early 50s after a long struggle with prescription painkillers.

During the news conference, he stressed the need for treatment as an alternative to incarceration and again criticized the nation’s war on drugs, calling it a “well-intentioned” but “abject failure.”

“What we need to understand is that this is a disease, and we need to treat this disease and give folks who have it the tools to deal with it,” Christie said.

Naloxone can be administered nasally or by injection and is commonly marketed under the brand name Narcan.

Its impact has been especially powerful in Ocean County, said Al Della Fave, a spokesman for the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office. This time last year, the county had logged 61 overdose deaths, he said. This year to date, it has seen just 29.

“Once we get this thing across the board, at all 21 counties, (there’s no) telling how many lives we can turn around,” Della Fave said.

But Daniel Watkins, 33, a patient at the center who said he spent a year addicted to heroin after struggling with prescription and other illegal drugs, said an emergency treatment like Narcan is only the beginning.

“You have to save the life after saving the life,” Watkins said.