Burlington County was not unique in experiencing heroin and opioid overdoses and they were increasing at an alarming rate. After taking the lead in meeting with community sector leaders and stakeholders in the area, a partnership was formed to fund a county-wide Narcan supply.
The Burlington County Coalition for Healthy Communities serves the entire county of Burlington and its population of just under 500,000 people. Burlington County is the largest county in New Jersey by geographical area and contains a significant amount of rural communities, as well as Philadelphia commuter towns, that make the population very diverse.
“In 2014, a coalition member asked a simple question at a monthly meeting that resulted in a quest that has saved hundreds of lives and helped bolster our role and our visibility in the county. She asked, ‘Do our local police carry Narcan?’” said Marc Romano, regional coalition coordinator at Prevention Plus of Burlington County. “Because of that question, the coalition reached out to the Chiefs of Police Association and learned that police did not carry Narcan. The main reasons the police department did not want to carry Narcan was not only the fear of being held liable, but also the cost of the drug and the cost of training officers to use it.”
In the next few months, the coalition took the lead in meeting with police chiefs, prosecutors, health officials, and many other related key stakeholders in the county. The county prosecutor supported the initiative to supply Narcan, offered to provide the training for police and to cover the initial cost of the Narcan deployment.
Then in 2015, after the coalition continued to strengthen intercounty relationships, three local hospitals partnered and funded the replacement of the Narcan supply county-wide. In 2017, over 900 people were saved by police and EMS with Narcan in Burlington County. In conjunction with county-wide Narcan deployment, 21 municipalities obtained prescription drug drop boxes that were placed in their police departments for safe and easy disposal.
“The readiness of the community you are trying to serve is very important. They need not to be aware of the awareness of the problem, but also need to know the specifics of “why here?” said Romano. “An emotional investment is needed, and our coalition worked very hard to educate people on why the use of Naloxone has the potential to affect every person in every corner of Burlington County. People will respond when they understand how these issues affect themselves and the ones they care for.”