Stepping Up the Fight Against Opioid Addiction

State, local communities roll out initiatives to battle opioid epidemic.

Photo by Andrew Ogilvie/Shutterstock

New Jersey’s opioid epidemic isn’t going away anytime soon, but at least one champion in the battle against this deadly crisis is pleased with the action she sees coming out of Trenton.

“We have been so encouraged by the attention Governor Phil Murphy is giving the opioid epidemic,” says Jody D’Agostini, who in 2013 founded Community in Crisis (CiC), a grassroots, nonprofit, opioid abuse prevention coalition, in response to a surge in opioid addiction and overdose deaths in the Somerset Hills section of New Jersey.

D’Agostini also applauds Attorney General Gurbir Grewal for being “at the forefront with important initiatives aimed at getting individuals abusing opioids into treatment rather than incarcerated or charged.”

Chief among those official initiatives is NJ CARES, which aims to combat the opioid crisis through an enhanced prescription monitoring program, a 24-hour response team and an inter-agency dashboard that helps state officials share monitoring data on overdoses, heroin and fentanyl arrests, Narcan use and treatment information. Additionally, rules on prescribing opiates have changed and the media has played a huge role in raising awareness of the dangers of opiod use.

Still, there is a long road ahead. According to NJ CARES, our state is on track to surpass 3,000 drug deaths for a record three consecutive years. Of these deaths, more than 85 percent can be attributed to opioids.

Tragedies strike every kind of community. In Somerset Hills, D’Agostini launched CiC following the overdose deaths of two Ridge High School graduates just two days apart, both friends of her daughter.

CiC is one cog in a movement of individual volunteers, community groups and non-profits dedicated to combating the opioid and heroin crisis. Their aim is to reduce the incidence, consequences and stigma of addiction through education, prevention and support.

In addition to NJ CARES, D’Agostini applauds the governor’s goals of enhancing school curricula to address addiction, requiring more stringent prescribing education for doctors; and heightening athlete/coach education about opioid misuse often originating with sports injuries.

In terms of progress, CiC has made strides toward implementation of its recommendations for comprehensive, evidence-based solutions at the local level. “We have reached three milestones,” says D’Agostini. “First, we have greatly enhanced community partnerships all working toward a common goal to reduce overdose deaths. Second, we have received significant funding support from federal, state and private sector sources, including numerous individuals. And lastly, we have seen a direct and significant impact on our community—heightened awareness, increased education and tangible support and hope for the recovery community.”

But that’s really just a good start. “Of the many things we feel is needed, obviously more funding would help coalitions such as ours,” says D’Agostini. “However, what keeps us awake at night is the lack of support and social opportunities for the millions of people who have achieved sobriety. That’s an area we are focusing on with acoustic coffeehouses, cooking classes, job placement and social events.”

Simply put, D’Agostini hopes that CiC becomes a model for substance abuse prevention and education that leads to changing lives and enabling futures. For more information visit communityincrisis.org.

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