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New state office will fight opioid epidemic

A new state office will be dedicated to fighting the opioid epidemic, state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced Thursday.
The Office of the New Jersey Coordinator of Addiction Response and Enforcement Strategies, or NJ CARES, will be responsible for overseeing addiction-fighting efforts across the Department of Law and Public Safety and creating partnerships with other agencies and groups similarly committed to identifying and implementing solutions to the opioid crisis and drug addiction.
The office will roll out a series of addiction-fighting programs, including Opioid Response Teams in municipalities throughout the state.

Sharon Joyce, who has served as the acting director of the Division of Consumer Affairs and a deputy director in the Division of Law, will oversee the office.
“I am honored and ready to lead NJ CARES on its mission to free New Jersey from the chains of addiction and provide relief to those suffering from it,” she said. “
The programs we’re announcing today create partnerships throughout the state that will make us all stronger, better informed, and more capable of defeating the scourge of addiction.”

Plans include an electronic data-sharing network to exchange opioid-related data among state agencies and an online portal providing the public with real-time updates on overdose deaths and other addiction-related information. 
“The opioid crisis is unprecedented in its scope and devastating in its intensity, and our response must be equally broad in scope and intensity,” Grewal said. “NJ CARES will combine all the relevant authority and resources within the Department of Law and Public Safety to unleash a full attack on this deadly epidemic.”
The new plans include a website dedicated to providing a real-time snapshot of the state’s crisis, with a breakdown of how each county is being affected.
The site will have weekly updates on suspected fatal drug overdoses and deployments of the overdose antidote naloxone.
Data will include quarterly reports on the number of opioid prescriptions being written.
The Opioid Response Teams will match participating police departments and emergency medical technicians with volunteers and local treatment agencies to provide around-the-clock crisis intervention for those suffering from opioid abuse.
Team members will have specialized and multi-disciplinary training that will include
an understanding of de-escalation techniques, evidence preservation and how to interact with opioid-addicted individuals.
An $850,000 federal grant will pay for on-call volunteers, training and costs associated with transportation to a treatment facility.
The office will also include:

  • Interagency Drug Awareness Dashboard – IDAD is a computerized, information-sharing “dashboard” to exchange opioid-related data between state agencies, including data from the New Jersey Prescription Monitoring Program, law enforcement data on heroin, fentanyl and other opioid-related arrests, naloxone administrations, fatal and non-fatal drug overdoses, and treatment information. The goal is to create a holistic picture of the state’s opioid environment, help develop targeted interventions, develop analytical opioid “hot spot” data, and push notifications through the PMP to providers. IDAD’s pilot program will be funded in part by a $600,000 federal grant obtained by the Department of Law and Public Safety.
  • Enhancements to the NJ Prescription Monitoring Program – The program that tracks information on prescription sales of narcotic painkillers and other habit-forming drugs will see its role expand under a series of upgrades and enhancements, including expanding access to the database to certain mental health providers and hiring a medical consultant to assist in reviewing the data and flaggin potential problems. The anticonvulsant medication Gabapentin, a drug known to enhance the effects of opioids, will also be added to the list of those tracked by the program. 

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