Health & Wellness

Fighting New Brunswick’s Heroin Problem

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Credits: Wikimedia Commons, Histwr~commonswiki
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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — Opioids have hammered the state in recent years, and New Brunswick has been no exception, according to private and government data.

Whether they be illegal pharmaceuticals or small doses of heroin, opioids sent 20 people to Robert Wood Johnson’s emergency room in November alone, an official there told TAPinto New Brunswick. Saint Peter’s, on the other hand, saw an average of six to eight heroin-related cases per month over the final stretch of last year.

So what can be done?

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One resident took her concerns about heroin overdoses to last week’s City Council meeting, where she implored police to investigate and arrest drug dealers, especially around French Street.

“I know you can’t stop a person from doing what they want to do,” Danielle Moore said. “But, oh my, seeing so many deaths and pick-ups in the one area—yes, I think it’s time for something to be done.”

Moore said she often sees drug activity along French Street and hears of overdoses in the neighborhood. Roughly a week before the council meeting, she said, residents “buried another one” who died from an overdose.

“I think it’s just time for police department detectives to really look into that area,” she added.

New Brunswick Police Capt. J.T. Miller declined to discuss any specific drug investigations in the city. But he assured Moore that city cops work to put drug dealers behind bars.

“If we can identify a trend, we investigate it further and see if we can find out who’s selling narcotics,” Miller said.

Indeed, over the past few years, authorities have slapped charges on a number of New Brunswick drug rings.

Last August, for instance, police busted a heroin operation run in part by a city firefighter. In 2015, 11 members of a heroin gang based on Seaman Street were reportedly indicted on drugs, weapons and conspiracy charges. New Brunswick police also busted three people that year in a raid that yielded heroin and guns.

While police may be mum on active investigations, officers have also attacked the opioid problem from another angle.

Through mid-December 2016, city police administered naloxone, or Narcan, a medicine that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, to 23 people, according to data provided by the department. Of those overdose victims, five required a double dose, Miller told TAPinto New Brunswick.

“To the best of our knowledge, all parties survived,” he said.

Miller noted that the figure only includes instances in which police officers administered Narcan. The department doesn’t keep records on the number of times the drug was used by emergency medical services.

It’s unclear how many people died of opioid overdoses in the city last year. But the number of fatal heroin overdoses in New Jersey in 2016 reportedly reached 918.

For those who survive and find themselves in an emergency room, the next step could be the most important they ever take.

Ann-Jeannette Geib, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, said last month that workers then provide supportive care and monitor patients for recurring signs of opioid intoxication.

They also discuss treatment options.

In 2015, the most recent year for which state data is available, 150 New Brunswick residents sought treatment for addiction to heroin and other opiates. That caused a third of all rehab admissions in the city that year, and New Brunswick’s number of heroin-related admissions was the sixth-most in Middlesex County.

While addicts must want to get clean in order for their recovery to succeed, they also need beds in rehab facilities. At the moment, Geib said, New Jersey and the rest of the country lack enough space to accommodate recovering opioid addicts.

Regardless, a greater and more informed awareness of the wave of opioid abuse has emerged in the area, she said.

“What we’re seeing is that we’re trying to offer referrals to treatments to our patients,” Geib said. “I think that the initiatives that have been taken have been an important first step, but a lot more work needs to be done.”

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