Use of opioid overdose antidote nearly triples since 2014
By KEN SERRANO
Feb. 18, 2018
LACEY, N.J. (AP) — J.P. Sinopal was brought back from the dead three times.
The first time came on Oct. 7, 2011, when the 25-year-old Lacey man was struck by a car outside a house party in the township. He was thrown 35 yards, stopping his heart. CPR revived him. Sinopal suffered a traumatic brain injury and was put on painkillers.
Those painkillers led to a heroin addiction, which led to his two other near-death experiences. After an overdose in 2017, an injection of the lifesaving antidote naloxone — administered by a fellow user — brought Sinopal back to life. Two weeks later, he overdosed again. This time, Sinopal said, it was Lacey police who administered the naloxone.
A recovery coach convinced him he needed treatment.
"Now, my mother isn't going to wake up wondering where her son is," said Sinopal, who is now interning to become a recovery coach. "So many people wouldn't be here if the police weren't carrying it."
Such back from the dead stories are becoming more common throughout New Jersey.
The use of the opioid overdose antidote naloxone — commonly known by the brand name of Narcan — has nearly tripled in New Jersey since rescuers and police officers began carrying it in 2014, according to figures in a recent New Jersey State Police report.
Statewide numbers rose from 5,174 in 2014 to 7,222 in 2015 — the first full year of use. The figure hit 10,308 in 2016 and 14,357 in 2017. As time has gone on, more agencies have used the antidote.
Almost every county has experienced a steady rise in the number of times the antidote has been used, but there are some exceptions.
Between 2016 and 2017, Monmouth and Ocean counties have witnessed a drop — the only two of New Jersey's 21 counties to see a decline last year.
Monmouth fell from 714 to 672 administrations of the antidote. Ocean fell by more than a third, from 977 administrations to 621.
Across the state, what the data mean is not entirely clear to addiction experts and law enforcement.
"There's more naloxone kits being handed out and there's more training," said Paul Ressler, who runs The Overdose Prevention Agency Corp. in Hamilton. The agency in part makes naloxone more available and trains people on how to use it.
Ressler stressed that the numbers captured by the New Jersey State Police's Drug Monitoring Initiative do not reflect emergency room administrations of naloxone or those by the general public, such as the family members of users.
The rise in the use of the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl and its analogs has added to the total naloxone administrations, since the use of those drugs can lead to an overdose more often than the use of heroin, officials said.
And more naloxone used may also indicate wider use of opioids in general, Ressler and others said.
Both Monmouth and Ocean counties have programs that steer addicts into treatment instead of sending them to jail. And both saw significant drops in overdose deaths.
Last year, the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office sent 387 addicts into treatment through its Blue Hart program, many of whom walked into police departments to seek help.
Drug deaths in the county plummeted last year by nearly 25 percent, falling from 216 in 2016 to 163 in 2017, according to the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office.
Monmouth County's drug deaths fell about 8 percent, from 164 in 2016 to 151 last year, according to the most recent figures. Along with Ocean County, Monmouth County has diverted addicts under arrest into treatment instead of sending them to jail. Figures on the number of addicts diverted in Monmouth were not immediately available.
While the diversion programs leading to more treatment may have helped bring down the number of deaths and naloxone administrations, there's another interpretation.
"If the police are starting to drop down on whoever is using in their town, a user is still going to find somewhere to go," said James Boozan, who works in New Jersey to expand the business of a 12-step program based in Florida called Immersions. "It doesn't mean they're moving there. They're overdosing there."
Boozan was basing his response on his interaction with users. Among them, Ocean County has a reputation of having successfully tamped down on the drug trade, he said.
But poor reporting is another possibility, he said.
As Monmouth and Ocean counties' number of naloxone adminstrations dropped year over year, Camden and Essex counties have risen sharply.
From 2016 to 2017, Camden's nearly tripled, jumping from 1,098 to 2,943. Essex County's naloxone administrations rose year over year from 1.131 to 1,675. But they more than tripled since the 481 in 2015.
Former Gov. Jim McGreevey, chairman of the New Jersey Reentry Corp., which helps former convicts with employment and training, said the figures in Camden and Essex counties show that the epidemic is no longer a suburban problem.
Many of the nonprofit corporation's 2,500 clients are recovering addicts, and some 20 percent of them still using, he said.
"The use of opioids has spread around the state, with an ever greater rise within urban areas," he said.
Sinopal, a newly minted father, finished treatment at a facility in Texas in October. Now, he is helping bring others to the 12-step rehabilitation program that he felt saved him from heroin.
But Sinopal hasn't forgotten the lesson he learned the second time he was brought back to life.
"Now, I always have (naloxone) on me," he said.
Information from: Asbury Park (N.J.) Press, http://www.app.com