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July 06, 2015

Drug free

South Jersey hospitals providing heroin antidote to cops for free

Under a new partnership, three major hospitals in Burlington County will provide local police departments with free supplies of an overdose-reversing drug, the Burlington County Times reports, a move a number of South Jersey hospitals are making.

The Burlington County Narcan Assistance Program was established through a formal agreement between the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office and Virtua, Lourdes Health System and the Deborah Heart and Lung Center in Pemberton Township.

Under the agreement, each hospital will supply county law enforcement agencies with naloxone, an opiate antidote often used to reverse heroin overdoses.

Since Gov. Chris Christie authorized police and first responders across New Jersey to carry and administer the drug, also known as Narcan, officers in Burlington County have used it 94 times. According to the county Prosecutor’s Office, the drug has been administered 64 times this year alone.

The drug has proved to be a lifesaver, but since the county’s initial purchase, the price of Narcan has doubled to an average of $29 per syringe.
In response to the increase, New Jersey entered into an agreement last month with California-based Amphastar Pharmaceuticals to provide law enforcement and other first responders with Narcan at a 20 percent discount.

The new partnership will provide the lifesaving drug to police for free.

“For nearly 40 years, Virtua’s paramedics have worked hand in hand with the law enforcement officers in each of the two counties that we serve," Richard Miller, Virtua president and CEO, told the Burlington County Times. "We view this program as a way to further strengthen that relationship in a way that truly benefits our partners in emergency response, as well as the people in our communities."

 A spokeswoman with Virtua said they were open to the program expanding to other parts of the state.
“If we were contacted by the prosecutor’s office in other counties, we would definitely consider it,” said Peggy Leone, a spokesperson with Virtua.

Earlier this month, prosecutors in Ocean and Monmouth counties brokered similar deals with the Barnabas Health-affiliated hospitals, CentraState Medical Center and Meridian Health-affiliated hospitals  in their area, said Al Della Fave, a spokesman in the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office. When a police officer administers Narcan they can turn in their empty container to the hospital and receive a new one free of charge. 

The counties argued that the hospitals "would have sprayed [the individual who overdosed] anyway once they went up to emergency room, why not reimburse us," said Della Fave. The hospitals agreed.

The agreement comes as Narcan use increases. In all of 2014, Narcan was utilized 129 times in Ocean County, according to a prosecutor's office there. Last year's number was already surpassed in the first six months of 2015, however. This year the drug was administered 142 times.

Della Fave said the increase was largely due to Narcan's wider availability - the severity of the heroin problem has stayed relatively constant.

Ocean County has also implemented a pilot program that changes how hospitals care for people who were brought in because of a heroin overdose. Previously, once the person received medical attention and was stabilized, they were then released.

The problem was, "that individual is going to go back to his buddies and get high again," said Della Fave.

Now, individuals can received counseling at the hospital and enter rehabilitation facilities directly under the new program, Della Fave said.

PhillyVoice reporter Michael Phillis contributed to this report.

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