Camden County Introduces Heroin Treatment Program

By Briana Vannozzi

Camden County Police Officer Stephen Centrone just saved a life using his Narcan kit.

“It comes in waves. Sometimes we won’t have one for days, and then other times, like today for example, we’ll have 2, 3, 4 a day,” he said.

The deployment of the opioid antidote has been a success story for first responders statewide. Now they’re up against a bigger hurdle: what to do after those lives are saved.

“So we’ve saved over 330 lives overall in Camden County, but then they’re released and most often they’re going back to using Heroin or whatever drug they’re using,” said Freeholder Louis Cappelli, Jr.

Enter Operation Sal, unveiled today, and named after a Camden County resident who died of an overdose in 2010.

“We’re working with all four hospitals in Camden County; Cooper, Virtua, Lady of Lourdes and Kennedy, to hold patients who have been given a Narcan treatment, try to talk them into getting treatment and then we will transport them to a provider of treatment. We will pay for the beginning intensive outpatient treatment provided to that individual,” said Cappelli.

“We are committing staff, which will come from health care providers as well as from social work, to kind of bring in the resources needed to take it to the next level to address their addiction problem,” said Dr. Rick Hong, Head of EMS Disaster and Transport Medicine for Cooper University Hospital.

Patients who participate will go from the ER, to detox and intensive outpatient treatment. A case manager will follow and manage their day-to-day care.

“We’ve always realized there’s a problem with addiction, however in the emergency department its always difficult to treat people with those problems because once we treat the acute issues, and we sometimes find difficulty in finding follow-up care for them,” Hong said.

Battling this problem is particularly difficult in inner cities, like Camden. Since police and first responders first started using Narcan in 2014, the city has seen 470 overdoses. 35 were fatal.

“Around the beginning of the summer there was a batch that was going around and we had over 100 overdoses that we’ve reversed the effects and saved people,” said Centrone.

“Right now we have $150,000 in grant funds. We think that might be able to last for up to a year. We’re going to go out and seek sponsorship for additional funds if we find that this program is successful,” said Cappelli.

The money translates to help for about 50 people.

“There’s the quantity of lives saved, but there’s also the quality of life. I think we’ve gotten the quantity down with this Narcan program, which is a wonderful thing. Now we have to address the second issue, which is a quality of life issue,” Hong said.

But Doctor Hong says you can’t force patients into treatment, and the success will depend on getting both the community and patients to buy in.