FANWOOD, NJ – Dozens of local residents turned out on Wednesday afternoon to participate in the “Confronting a Crisis” educational forum at the Forest Road Park building in Fanwood highlighting the heroin and prescription opioid abuse epidemic. It featured the expertise of some of the top law enforcement officials in Union County.
The forum, organized by Fanwood Police Chief Richard Trigo in collaboration with the Scotch Plains Police Department, outlined the troubling trend of fatal overdoses and drug addiction in Union County. Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr and Acting Union County Prosecutor Grace Park delivered the opening remarks after Chief Trigo’s introduction to the session.
The 45-minute keynote presentation was delivered by Julie Peterman, Director of the Union County Prosecutor’s Guns, Gangs, Drugs and Violent Crimes Task Force, who has more than a decade of experience in narcotics.
Peterman outlined the sequences that lead to heroin addiction, which often starts with prescription opioid abuse and painkillers. However, illegal narcotics are not reviewed or regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), she explained. The substance fentanyl, present in more than half of fatal overdoses in Union County over the last three years, is a commonly-used element and outlawed due to its potency.
This year, there has been a total of 34 fatal overdoses (on pace for 122 in 2017), a pace that would be up significantly from 2016 and would mark an increase nearly twice as high as the 64 reported fatalities in 2015.
One of the steps to preventing fatal overdoses has been the introduction of Naloxone, which blocks or reverses the effects of opioid medication. It was introduced to Union County municipal police departments in July 2014 and has been deployed 301 times in 20 towns while saving 283 lives.
"This program was brought to our town to show that this problem does not have boundaries and it effects every town throughout Union County and across New Jersey," said Fanwood Chief Richard Trigo. "The was evident as on the day of the forum, a large scale arrest occurred in Scotch Plains."
The forum was followed up by a Q&A session of concerned residents, who had the opportunity to see the illegal drugs and paraphernalia first hand.