By Michael Hill
In this National Recovery Month, Gov. Chris Christie praised recovering heroin addict Rich Wilder.
“The fact that he is standing here should tell all of us that miracles can happen,” Christie said.
“I went through a lot and it was a painful journey, man. I think the pain got great enough for me to want to change,” Wilder said.
Christie announced more resources to combat New Jersey’s addiction crisis. The administration issued an emergency order to ban the making, selling and distributing of seven fentanyl knock-offs, increasing fines and prison time.
“We are doing so to combat the imminent danger to the health, safety and welfare of New Jersey residents and their families,” Christie said.
The governor also announced the expansion of the Recovery Coach Program — recovering addicts coaching other addicts through treatment — from five to 11 counties and negotiated rebates to put more Narcan syringes in the hands of EMS and law enforcers who used the overdose-reversing drug more than 7,200 times last year and 6,000 times so far this year.
Christie said fentanyl overdose deaths tripled last year to 142 compared to the year before and State Police Captain Juan Colon — who’s on the front line to keep it off the streets — tells why.
“Because of their potency, they’re going into cardiac arrest almost immediately and it’s basically too late to get there with Narcan,” Colon said.
“I think it’s a warning that we have to share with everyone,” said Partnership for Drug-Free New Jersey Executive Director Angelo Valente.
“A large part of increased incidence is increased awareness which is a good thing. As we become more aware of this, identify this, we’re naturally going to see a greater incidence of this,” said Dr. Vikram Varma, ER chairman at Community Medical Center.
“When there were 20 overdose deaths in March, when we went back and took a look at it, 17 of those people had fentanyl in them,” said Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato.
This week the Ocean County prosecutor launches a new program for addicts to simply walk into police station, ask for treatment and to get it — no threat of charges or an arrest.
“I’m doing it for the simple reason that the death rate in Ocean County is spiraling out of control,” Coronato said.
John Brogan is the prosecutor’s chief recovery specialist.
“It’s very clear that the current state of affairs in New Jersey is not working,” Brogan said.
The Barnabas Health System says it’s expanding its recovery coach program even beyond its health system — recognition of the size of the challenge.
For more stories that are part of the initiative Healthy NJ: New Jersey’s Drug Addiction Crisis, click here.