The Department of Health continues to implement initiatives to help reverse the tide of the opioid epidemic in the state.
“Eight lives are lost each day to the overdose epidemic in New Jersey,” said Acting Health Commissioner Judith M. Persichilli. “We are committed to linking all those in need to treatment and services by engaging healthcare providers, harm reduction centers, local health officials and emergency care providers in the fight to save lives.”
The Department of Health is expanding its “5 Minutes to Help” training course for Emergency Medical Services staff to improve connections to care for non-fatal overdose victims. This program has already trained 75 first responders so they can effectively provide patients with information on recovery resources. Last week, the Department launched an online introduction course for EMS and law enforcement partners and will hold several in person trainings this year. First responders are on the front lines of this public health challenge, saving lives and serving as the first link to treatment and services. In 2019, EMS administered nearly 10,000 doses of naloxone.
The Department is also increasing access to naloxone. The Department’s Naloxone Standing Orders program allow pharmacists to dispense the opioid antidote without a prescription. In 2019, there was a 63 percent increase in participating pharmacists and a 30 percent increase in pharmacies.
To reduce dependence on opioids, the Department is working with hospital care providers to decrease opioid prescribing to treat chronic pain in emergency departments. Through the Opioid Reduction Option (ORO) program, 11 hospitals have enrolled in training. St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center, which serves as a Gold Technical Partner, is sharing its best practices that have received national recognition in reducing opioid prescriptions in their emergency department. In 2019, 165 emergency department personnel were trained. This year, the Department, and its partner, the New Jersey Hospital Association, will hold another round of training to engage more hospitals in this effort. The goal of the ORO program is to ultimately reduce overall opioid prescribing in NJ’s emergency departments to 12 percent or less.
New Jersey’s seven Harm Reduction Centers continue to play a critical role in addressing the overdose epidemic. The Department is expanding services at these centers to support the health of individuals in active use. In addition to access to new syringes, overdose prevention education, naloxone, and HIV and Hepatitis C testing, center staff provide outreach, counseling and care coordination. In 2019, more than 3,100 residents were served at these centers located in Asbury Park, Atlantic City, Camden, Jersey City, Newark, Paterson and Trenton.
The Department will continue to improve data collection and analysis to better understand the status of the epidemic and employ better informed strategies for prevention of use, and reduction of deaths and recidivism. In 2019, the NJ Overdose Data Dashboard added data on viral hepatitis and neonatal abstinence syndrome. The dashboard provides statistics on overdose deaths, crime, naloxone administration, prescription monitoring, drug related hospital visits, and other important data to understand the population health impacts of the epidemic.
To help further facilitate data exchange, the Department is supporting efforts by behavioral health providers to implement electronic health records and connection to other health care providers through the New Jersey Health Information Network (NJHIN). Historically, substance use disorder providers have not had access to the resources they needed to maintain modern health record systems, and this technology gap has limited their access to timely health information. More than 120 providers are interested in participating and 50 have signed contracts with vendors to begin the process of moving to or upgrading their electronic health records systems.
The Department is also focused on addressing the overdose epidemic through a health equity lens. The growing impact on communities of color and geographic disparities will be covered in a series of health equity forums this Spring, which will culminate in the Fall Population Health summit.
The Department’s work is being supported by both state and federal funding.