SUSSEX COUNTY, NJ – The opioid epidemic has had a devastating effect on Sussex County. Since 2013, almost 250 Sussex County residents have experienced a fatal overdose, with 14 occurring through the first week of March 2020. In 2019, there were 40 overdose deaths; the highest annual death rate since this epidemic began.
The Sussex County Board of Chosen Freeholders formally approved the creation of its own Overdose Fatality Review Team (O.F.R.T.) in November 2019. The Sussex County O.F.R.T. conducted its first review in January 2020 and has been conducting reviews through a secure virtual format since the pandemic began. Sussex County was the first county to hold a virtual review in New Jersey and has provided technical assistance to other counties as they initiated a virtual review process.
The New Jersey Department of Health, Office of Local Public Health announced a grant opportunity in March 2020 for counties that had established Review Teams and those that wished to form new ones. The grants, awarded in increments of $100,000 each, were made possible through funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Sussex County applied for this funding and received confirmation in August that it had been awarded a grant in the amount of $100,000 for the period of October 1, 2020 through September 30, 2021. In all, 19 grants have been awarded in 17 counties and 2 cities in New Jersey.
The Sussex County Overdose Fatality Review Team will benefit from this grant by obtaining material and technological enhancements that will be used to assist in the collection and analysis of data related to fatal opioid overdoses of residents from the county. This information will be used to identify trends, risk behaviors, system gaps, and support lapses that potentially contribute to the misuse of and/or addiction to opioids.
The introduction of fentanyl in the illicit supply chain has dramatically increased the number of fatal overdoses and deployments of naloxone (Narcan) by both law enforcement personnel and Emergency Medical Services (EMS). Eighty seven percent of fatal overdoses in 2019 included the presence of fentanyl in the decedents’ systems. In response to the epidemic, the Sussex County Prosecutor’s Office has provided training and Narcan kits to every law enforcement agency in Sussex County. Each EMS squad in the county has also trained all of its members in the deployment of Narcan. In addition, the State of New Jersey has made it possible for private citizens to obtain Narcan training and kits.
The purpose of the O.F.R.T. is to help provide some context to overdose deaths, understand the myriad reasons behind overdose, address the stigma of people who use drugs, explore the challenges to those on the front lines of this epidemic and provide an opportunity for all parties to discuss their efforts and share them with one another. The O.F.R.T. consists of members from behavioral health, criminal justice, healthcare, medical examiner, EMS, public health, social services and treatment/prevention communities.
“We are very fortunate to have the cooperation and support of all the members of our Team and are excited about the opportunity this grant will provide us” said Nick Loizzi of the Office of Substance Abuse and Alcohol Services and coordinator of the O.F.R.T.