Camden County is launching a pilot program to support drug-overdose victims who are revived by police only to then wait weeks for a spot in an inpatient treatment center.
Dubbed Operation SAL - an acronym for Save A Life and also a tribute to the son of a local addiction-issues advocate - the $150,000 program is designed to help up to 50 people receive intensive outpatient treatment during that waiting period after an overdose.
"This program is a small but significant step in helping to combat this epidemic," said Patty DiRenzo, whose son, Sal Marchese, died of an overdose in 2010.
Under the current system, overdose victims who are revived using the overdose-reversal medication Narcan, or naloxone, are treated at hospitals and then released with contact information for inpatient treatment centers.
Those who seek the treatment often then face wait lists that can last one to three weeks, said John D. Pellicane, 56, the alcohol and drug director at the Camden County Department of Health and Human Services.
The new program will offer outpatient treatment during the time between being released from the hospital and entering a residential program, Pellicane said.
"Basically, the goal is to make sure you're offering something instead of saying, 'Call this number,' " Pellicane said.
"If we don't engage them at all, and we send them right back into the street, then what happens is they're at risk for overdose again," he said. "And many clients go back out into the street, they start using what they were using, and they end up overdosing again."
Camden County is subcontracting the outpatient treatment to Delaware Valley Medical, a Pennsauken-based methadone maintenance treatment center.
The program should be running in about three weeks, Pellicane said Wednesday in an interview after the event where the program was announced. That program included a recognition lunch for a county addiction task force, including dozens of police officers from across the county, many of whom received awards for administering Narcan while on patrol.
Narcan used to be available only to paramedics and to hospital staff, meaning overdose victims could spent precious minutes waiting for that emergency treatment. Last year, Gov. Christie expanded Narcan availability to emergency medical technicians and police officers who receive training.
And CVS/pharmacy two weeks ago announced it is making Narcan available without a prescription in New Jersey and 11 other states, joining two previous states. Walgreens and Rite Aid have also tested making the anti-overdose drug more readily available.
In Camden County, Narcan was used 331 times to reverse an overdose as of Tuesday, a spokesman for the county prosecutor's office said.
The Camden County Police Department, which patrols the city of Camden, also touts the number of times it has used Narcan. Wednesday morning, as they prepared to head to Collingswood for the luncheon, two of its officers on foot patrol near the Walter Rand Transportation Center came across a man and woman who apparently had overdosed.
The Narcan kit carries two doses, but some people need two or more doses; Officer Tyrrell Bagby called for backup. Officer Benjamin Patti pulled up in his car.
The three officers administered two doses of Narcan to each of the victims.
"It worked out perfectly," Bagby said.
Operation SAL won't directly change what police do, it will magnify their impact, said Scott Thomson, the chief of the Camden force.
"Up until this point in time, our officers really did not have anything that they could help that individual follow up with. But now, with Operation SAL, there's going to be that health-care component that rolls in and hopefully helps these folks better defeat the disease of addiction," Thomson said.
"Hopefully, what it'll change is, it'll decrease the volume as we move forward, in trying to address this epidemic. It does get to be disheartening and even frustrating for law enforcement officers when they're making multiple saves on the same victims," he said.