MANCHESTER – International Overdose Awareness Day was observed in Whiting recently. The event honored loved ones lost to overdose throughout the state.
The Whiting event was one of two observances held in Ocean County. The Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office and Bright Harbor Healthcare formed a partnership to coordinate a morning resource event in front of the Toms River branch of the Ocean County Library on Washington Street and an afternoon event in the parking lot of the Stop & Shop in Whiting.
Meghan Corrigan, the director of marketing at Bright Harbor Healthcare told Micromedia Publications that there are numerous programs and agencies dedicated to helping with prevention and recovery.
She said the events in Ocean County showcased Operation Helping Hands which is a state wide program. Both events also stressed the urgency of harm reduction expansion as a racial justice issue
“This is about helping the families of those facing addiction problems as well. We have people who are here today to help family members with services. This is also about community education,” Corrigan said.
She said through their partnership with the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, “we are trying to provide everything that people need to get well.”
Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Detective Sgt. Melissa Rose of the Special Offenders Unit was one of the organizers of the day’s program and explained that the Helping Hand program was funded by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office through a state grant.
“Every county in the state has received funds to provide programs and resources and today we are showing how we are spending these funds in our county,” Rose said.
The Ocean County Helping Hand programs include Community Outreach Training and Education (C.O.T.E.), Trident (a municipal court diversion program), and First Step which is a first step program from overdose to recovery.
“We had a young lady at the Toms River event who had been off her medication for a while and we had a representative talk to her and transport her to CMC (Community Medical Center, Toms River). We gave out Narcan to parents who have children with addiction and we had families of survivors come by,” Rose said.
“There are people here today who can talk one on one with those impacted by addiction. Bigger events sometimes can deter people from walking up,” Rose added.
Manchester Police were represented at the Whiting event through Detectives Adam Emmons and Keith Craig who manned a table and tent beside the OCPO tent and vehicle and BHH. Lauren Roberts, a clinical coordinator, was present at the Toms River event.
In 2021, over 100,000 people died from a drug-related overdose across the nation, the most in recorded U.S. history. In New Jersey, 3,124 people overdosed. Deaths have increased by 230% in the last decade, with deaths rising fastest for Black and Hispanic/Latinx residents.
Drug-related deaths among Hispanic/Latinx Jerseyans are nearly four times higher than 10 years ago and for Black New Jerseyans, deaths have increased more than 250% over that same period according to New Jersey Policy Perspective.
Amanda Devecka-Rinear, of New Jersey Organizing Project noted the New Jersey overdose death toll stating, “every single one of those overdoses was preventable. We have Naloxone, a drug to reverse overdose, and we have drugs like Buprenorphine, a medication that increases long term recovery and reduces the risk of overdose by 50%.”
“We’re not getting these medications in the hands of those who need them most. Sometimes the numbers hide what matters most. They’re people who count and people we love,” she added.
She stressed, “the people we have lost in this disaster are not to be blamed for our failings as a country to adequately address this crisis or rein in drug corporation abuses. Now more than ever, we need to stand up and speak out.”
Devecka-Rinear advocated for change saying there were three ways people could take action starting with sharing their story or a story of a loved one. “We recently launched a new website: NotOneMoreNJ.com, kindly funded in part by the loved ones of Pat Walters. This is a place to celebrate the lives and mourn the losses of our loved ones, share stories of those of us who have struggled and survived, and take action.
“Our stories are powerful reminders of what’s at stake if we continue to prioritize profits over people. You can share your own tribute here. If you need help writing up your story, we will happily work with you,” she added.
The second way is “to tell our senators to pass the MAT Act (now part of the Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Well Being Act) by taking action at ppls.ac/MatActNow,” she added.
She said, “our loved ones struggling with addiction deserve better access to the care they need, and the MAT Act will make this possible by expanding access to life-saving drugs that cut the chance of overdose in half.”
Devecka-Rinear also urged individuals to “join the fight to ultimately end the overdose crisis, come to our next Not One More monthly meeting in October. You can RSVP and get a calendar invite at njorganizing.us/NOTONEMORENJMTG.”
How To Get Help
For information about the Ocean County Helping Hand programs available call 732-929-2027 or visit ocponj.gov
To learn more about New Jersey’s new naloxone standing order legislation visit https://www.instagram.com/p/CQ11r9Dj6IT/ and for information about naloxone call or text 1-877-4NARCAN or visit naloxoneforall.org/newjersey