No sooner did Gov. Christie announce recommendations from his opioid abuse task force than a rash of overdoses hit the City of Camden — 14 overdoses on fentanyl-laced heroin within just four hours.
“Fortunately, none of them were fatal, and we were able to save the lives of two people. One individual we saved was able to provide us info which gave us the ability to go back and find the individual distributing these packets of fentanyl-laced heroin and place him under arrest,” said Scott Thomson, chief of Camden County Police Department.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, which is 50 times stronger than heroin. And it shares much of the responsibility for New Jersey’s 25,000 overdose reversals since 2014. On Tuesday, Christie revised guidelines for the Health Department allowing first responders to carry double the amount of naloxone, the opioid antidote, from 2 milligram doses to four.
“I got to tell you it gets scary out there with the type of fentanyl and its potency because we’ve seen there are Narcan-resistant strains of fentanyl that are out there just because of how strong it is, and just because we’re able to get there quickly and we’re able to administer the antidote it’s not always going to be successful,” said Thomson.
“We definitely need more resources and I think the governor announcing there will be some available can be very helpful this year we have double the amount of deaths from overdoses as we did last year,” said Louis Cappelli, freeholder director of Camden County.
Fatal overdoses in Camden are up 150 percent compared to this time last year. And, while that number is at the crisis level, it’s a microcosm of what’s happening across the country. Attorney General Chris Porrino tweeted a warning to Camden residents of the bad batch of drugs circulating. Fentanyl-laced drugs have dozens of streams into the state, making it nearly impossible for law enforcement to keep up.
First responders requested these changes when they were surveyed by the governor’s task force on drug abuse control.
“Over the last several years, we found more and more cases where we need multiple doses of Narcan, 2-, 4-, even 6-milligrams to wake them up as the actual chemical structures change, whether it’s fentanyl, so we were trying to catch up,” said Dr. Ken Lavelle, emergency medicine physician.
Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo says he saw this happening in Atlantic County and first proposed increasing the Narcan dosage in January.
“You know we have an epidemic in New Jersey and we have to put a stop to the deaths that are happening,” said Mazzeo.
Meanwhile, Camden will host a regional candlelight vigil Saturday to commemorate the hundreds of lives claimed by the epidemic.