TRENTON –Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal today announced three major actions by the Office of the New Jersey Coordinator for Addiction Responses and Enforcement Strategies (“NJ CARES”) to combat opioid addiction on multiple fronts. The announcement coincides with Attorney General Grewal’s speech before a national audience at the Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit in Atlanta, which is the country’s largest annual conference addressing the opioid crisis.
The three actions unveiled today are:
“There’s much more to be done, but we are making important progress in our fight against the opioid epidemic in New Jersey,” said Attorney General Grewal. “We are deploying law enforcement resources to promote treatment and recovery for individuals suffering from addiction. We are educating healthcare professionals to help them better prevent addiction in the first place. We are ensuring that our law enforcement strategies are informed by the data. And we are doing it all by building partnerships with other state agencies, county and local partners, and the private sector.”
“These programs leverage the strengths and expertise of like-minded agencies, organizations, and individuals across the state that share our goal of ending the addiction crisis,” said Sharon M. Joyce, Director of NJ CARES. “With every working partnership we forge, we’re stronger, better informed, and more capable of winning this important battle.”
Expansion of “Operation Helping Hand”
The expansion of “Operation Helping Hand” means that law enforcement officers across all of New Jersey – from Sussex to Cape May – will be proactively reaching out to individuals suffering from addiction and, working with community healthcare partners, helping these individuals pursue addiction treatment and recovery support services.
Attorney General Grewal developed Operation Helping Hand as a new way to combat opioid addiction in Bergen County while serving as the County Prosecutor in 2016.
The program expanded to five counties in June 2018, when over 150 individuals encountered by law enforcement officers over a five-day period chose to pursue treatment – meaning in-patient detox, or in-patient treatment, or intensive outpatient treatment, or medically assisted treatment, or a combination thereof – or recovery support services.
Seventeen counties in New Jersey are expected to participate in Operation Helping Hand as part of the expansion of the program being announced today.
The expansion is being funded with $1 million in federal funding, which the New Jersey Department of Health ("DOH") received from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and sub-granted to NJ CARES.
Fifteen Operation Helping Hand grants have been awarded so far to the County Prosecutors’ Offices in Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Morris, Salem, Sussex, Union, and Warren counties. Grant awards are pending for two additional counties. Each county may receive approximately $58,000 for the program.
Counties are adopting a number of different strategies to advance the goals of Operation Helping Hand, and will report on the outcomes of their efforts to NJ CARES. For example, some counties will focus on connecting individuals to treatment and recovery support services at the police station following an arrest for heroin possession. Others will use Operation Helping Hand funding to establish diversion programs in municipal courts, where defendants are not eligible for drug court. And other counties will identify and offer treatment and recovery support services to individuals considered to have a high risk of overdose based on their history of past overdoses and other law enforcement data.
“Operation Helping Hand shows that innovative policing really can change lives for the better,” said Attorney General Grewal. “Smart law enforcement isn’t just about making arrests. It’s about strengthening the communities we serve – including by helping individual members of those communities overcome their drug addiction.”
New Jersey Opioid Medical Education Program
The New Jersey Opioid Medical Education Program, a new low-cost continuing education program on opioids for healthcare professionals will help doctors, nurses, mental health care professionals, and other licensed practitioners become better educated in spotting signs of prescription drug abuse and helping address and prevent addiction among their patients.
The program, expected to go live this summer, is the result of a new partnership between NJ CARES and the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, which will develop and run the online program.
Funding for the project comes from the $100 million that the Murphy Administration committed to combatting the opioid epidemic in FY2019.
Offered at a subsidized price, the program will help healthcare professionals in New Jersey – from physicians, nurses, and veterinarians to psychologists, social workers, and athletic trainers – satisfy the State’s requirement that they receive one hour of continuing education on prescription opioid drugs every two years.
Professionals will have the opportunity to participate in a live webinar or view online videos.
The curriculum will include evidence-based information on responsible prescribing practices, alternatives to opioids for managing and treating pain, and the risks and signs of opioid abuse, addiction, and diversion.
As part of its agreement with NJ CARES, the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine will roll out six one-hour educational videos over the course of the year.
The first video, expected to be available in June, will be designed to offer prescribers – physicians, dentists, advanced practice nurses, optometrists and veterinarians – an overview of best practices for prescribing opioids and complying with relevant laws.
Three additional videos will focus on the important roles that nurses, pharmacists, and mental health professionals play in caring for patients suffering from pain and substance use disorders.
The two remaining videos will offer all licensed professionals subject to the continuing education requirements a more in-depth understanding of medication assisted treatment as well as screening techniques and harm reduction strategies.
“The New Jersey Opioid Medical Education Program will provide our licensees with education that will keep them at the forefront of best practices in treating pain and preventing addiction,” said Paul Rodríguez, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “This is critical information for providers authorized to prescribe opioids and for healthcare professionals treating patients who are taking them.”
Launch of “Integrated Drug Awareness Dashboard”
The launch of the Integrated Drug Awareness Dashboard (“IDAD”), a computerized information-sharing database, enables officials from across the Department of Law & Public Safety to exchange and analyze important opioid-related data that previously has been kept in separate silos within each agency. Plans are underway to enhance the IDAD to include other state agencies and to expand the types of data included in the system, including public health data.
The initial version of the IDAD integrates opioid-related data from the New Jersey State Police and the New Jersey Prescription Monitoring Program into one centralized database accessible to authorized users from different divisions.
Data now available through the IDAD includes the number and types of prescription opioids being dispensed throughout the state and the locations of heroin, fentanyl and other opioid-related arrests.
Information gleaned from the IDAD will help create a holistic picture of New Jersey’s opioid environment that will aid state agencies in developing and analyzing data that can be used to target intervention initiatives, enhance public outreach and education efforts, and develop other data-driven solutions to the opioid epidemic.
Grant funding for the IDAD comes, in part, from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Program.