PATERSON, NJ - Government officials, hospital leadership, and law enforcement professionals gathered at St. Joseph’s University Medical Center Wednesday to launch another new, and collaborative, effort to combat opioid addiction, that, when successful, they said, will impact not just Paterson, but the entire nation.

Through the receipt of a $600,000 federal grant, Mayor Andre Sayegh announced, the represented organizations will partner in a two-year program in an effort to curb the crisis that just last week, in an event announcing a separate $150,000 to fight the same battle, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said led to the arrests of 2000 individuals in Passaic County in 2018, as well as 196 deaths.

The creation of an Opioid Response Team (ORT), Grewal said at the time, will help bring a stop to the "endless cycle of drug arrests, overdose deaths, and narcan saves.”

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The latest round of funding, awarded by the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance, will buttress that program, Sayegh said, allowing the partners, who for too long have worked in silos to resolve the crisis, to find "more sustainable answers to a longstanding problem."

Speaking on behalf of St. Joseph’s was Dr. Alexis LaPietra, chief of pain management, who has also helped to direct the healthcare giant's innovative Alternatives to Opioids (ALTO) program, launched in 2016 to encourage medical professionals to prescribe addictive opioids only as a last resort.



Through six months of data gathering and analysis, and by bringing all of the stakeholders together, including the community, LaPietra predicted, the grant will allow for all involved to meet their objectives in "novel ways." Ultimately, she predicted, the practices developed locally will be implemented well beyond Paterson's borders.

"We will dig out of this crisis and save lives," LaPietra concluded.

Asked after the event whether or not she thought the battle against opioids is being won, Passaic County Prosecutor Camelia M. Valdes suggested it is one that “we are poised to win.”

The grant program, she said, will force further collaboration among stakeholders, critical since the impact of factors such as childhood trauma, poverty, education, and economic opportunities must all be considered in bringing rise to a successful campaign, not just law enforcement. 

“If we’re not treating the root cause,” she told TAPinto Paterson, “we’re just a step away from another deployment of Narcan.”

While unable to attend the announcement Representive Bill Pascrell said in a statement that it was “further proof that Paterson continues to lead the way as we combat the scourge of opioids in our communities,” and promised to “continue fighting for federal support like this that allows us to be proactive in the fight against opioid abuse.”

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