EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - John Colaizzi graduated from East Brunswick High School in 1997. Today he returned to his home town, also to the location of his first job at the Walgreens' on Milltown Road, and shook the hand of the Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie. He also gave a grateful hug and handshake to his former Social Studies teacher Mayor Kevin McEvoy.
Colaizzi is the Area Healthcare Specialist for Walgreens which launched its national anti-opiate initiative today at the first location in New Jersey here in East Brunswick. The program includes a prescription drop-off kiosk at the rear of the store near the pharmacy; increased availability of nalaxone (Narcan) without a prescription; full compliance with online monitoring of opiate prescriptions; and pharmacist counseling for those who feel that they may be having trouble with prescriptions, including possible addiction.
"New Jersey is not immune to the public health risk of prescription drugs, " said Colaizzi, a graduate of the Rutgers University School of Pharmacy. He said that it was Walgreens' desire to make "safe disposal easier so that drugs that are accidentally used or intentionally misused" are not available to people who do not need them.
Governor Christie took to the podium to concur that the easy access to opiates is a "ticking time bomb in homes." "Pharmacists are a key link in the chain of fighting addiction, "said Christie, who also praised the quality of education given by the Rutgers School of Pharmacy, "recognized as one of the best in the nation." Rutgers officials were also present at the event.
"We are grateful to Walgreens. They are good corporate citizens, " said Christie, who also cited the success of Project Medicine Drop since its implementation in New Jersey in 2011. According to the Governor, "139,000 pounds of prescription medications have been turned in so far." There is also a safe drop-off location at the East Brunswick Municipal Building which is open every day. The directions for correct use of the township drop-off location are on the box. Community Policing Officer Craig Hoover notes that "No identification is necessary, and no labels are required. East Brunswick follows the 2-person procedure, meaning that two people check all dropped off medications." Hoover said that he saw the Walgreens program as "good, a helpful extension of the take -back initiative already in place. The more we can have taken back, the better."
Governor Christie also expressed support for the tracking of controlled dangerous substances (CDS) through the use of the New Jersey Prescription Monitoring Plan (NJPMP) through which opiates and other addictive medications are tracked. Information is shared across state lines, said Christie, to prevent "doctor shopping" (patients who are looking for several doctors who will write prescriptions for the same drug) and "prescription mills" (doctors who write prescriptions when there is no medical need, usually for a price.)
'My daughter had two wisdom teeth removed and was prescribed 30 Percocet, " said Christie, making a point about the over-prescribing of pain medication. He did not fill the prescription and gave her some Advil instead.
"The holiday season is a time of enormous positive and negative energy. We need to be careful We all have people in our lives who have been touched by addiction. Do you think that they are lesser moms, dads, sister, friends because they have become addicted? We make a moral judgment on these people that we do not make about people with other illnesses. There but for the grace of God go I, "said Christie.
Acknowledging Mayor McEvoy and the representatives of local law enforcement, Christie closed by saying , "Mayors are on the front line of the fight. They hear about everything. The deaths from drug abuse and overdoses affect everyone in the community. How the mayors and other officials react affects people's ability to cope and how they feel about where they live."
At a vigil at the New Jersey Statehouse in Trenton this past Wednesday evening, Christie was joined by former Governor James McGreevey in a public presentation about his plans to address the state's growing opiate crisis. He encouraged use of New Jersey's addiction support hotline 211. 211 connects New Jerseyans to the services they need, and in this case, to the rehabilitation and recovery programs that help address addiction. McGreevey is the director of the New Jersey Re-Entry Corporation, a nonprofit group that helps to transition former prison inmates with nonviolent (mostly drug-related) convictions to return successfully to the workplace.
There is help for East Brunswick residents close to home, too. The Opiate Initiative adopted by the East Brunswick Police Department in 2016 also provides support for the those who struggle with addiction and the families that need resources and strategies for coping. At last week's "Town Talks" program, Mayor McEvoy, Chief James Conroy, and Patrolman Craig Hoover presented a comprehensive program to support addicts and fight addiction. "We're extending the olive branch; let us help you, " asserted Hoover, referring to the East Brunswick Community Policing Program that is "bridging the gap between police and recovery centers." Additionally, The East Brunswick Municipal Alliance spearheads local programs to create an environment of wellness, free of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco abuse.