Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal today announced the creation of a new office within the Office of the Attorney General dedicated to fighting the opioid epidemic.
The Office of the New Jersey Coordinator of Addiction Response and Enforcement Strategies (“NJ CARES”) will be responsible for overseeing addiction-fighting efforts across the Department of Law and Public Safety and creating partnerships with other agencies and groups similarly committed to identifying and implementing solutions to the opioid crisis and drug addiction.
The Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs Sharon M. Joyce and a Deputy Director in the Division of Law, has been named Director of NJ CARES. Under Joyce’s leadership, the office will roll out a series of new addiction-fighting programs, including the creation of around-the-clock “Opioid Response Teams” in municipalities throughout New Jersey, an electronic data-sharing network to exchange opioid-related data among state agencies, and an online portal providing the public with real-time updates on overdose deaths and other addiction-related information.
Attorney General Grewal announced the creation of NJ CARES during a keynote address that kicked off a daylong multi-state symposium at Seton Hall University School of Law. The symposium brings together policymakers, caregivers, and advocates from New Jersey and other states to share ideas on how to combat the nation’s opioid addiction epidemic.
“The opioid crisis is unprecedented in its scope and devastating in its intensity, and our response must be equally broad in scope and intensity,” said Attorney General Grewal. “The Office of the New Jersey Coordinator of Addiction Response and Enforcement Strategies or NJ CARES will combine all the relevant authority and resources within the Department of Law and Public Safety to unleash a full attack on this deadly epidemic.”
“I am honored and ready to lead NJ CARES on its mission to free New Jersey from the chains of addiction and provide relief to those suffering from it,” said Director Joyce. “The programs we’re announcing today create partnerships throughout the state that will make us all stronger, better informed, and more capable of defeating the scourge of addiction.”
Among the new initiatives being rolled out under NJ CARES are:
* Statewide Opioid Response Teams (“ORT”) – The ORT program is a twenty-four-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week program in which participating police departments and emergency medical technicians (“EMTs”) work with volunteers and local treatment agencies to provide crisis intervention to individuals suffering from opioid abuse. Comprised of members of law enforcement, mental health advocates, substance abuse providers, Substance Abuse Recovery Advocates, and EMTs, the ORT will be called by local police or EMTs to assist addicted individuals by providing them with support, information, and referrals to treatment programs. Specialized and multi-disciplinary training will provide team members with an understanding of de-escalation techniques, evidence preservation, and how to interact with opioid-addicted individuals. New Jersey expects to design and implement the ORT program using an $850,000 federal grant to pay for on-call volunteers, training, and costs associated with transportation to a treatment facility.
* NJ CARES Website – The NJ CARES website will be dedicated to providing the public with a real-time snapshot of the state’s opioid crisis and a breakdown of how each county is being affected. The website will include weekly updates on suspected fatal drug-overdoses and deployments of the life-saving overdose antidote “naloxone”, quarterly reports on the number of opioid prescriptions being written, and other data related to the opioid crisis. The NJ CARES website will provide members of the public with a better understanding of how the opioid addiction crisis is impacting their counties and alert them to emerging trends and issues to better protect themselves and their loved ones. The portal includes data released today on drug-related deaths in New Jersey in 2016.
* Interagency Drug Awareness Dashboard (“IDAD”) – IDAD will be a computerized, information-sharing “dashboard” to exchange opioid-related data between state agencies, including data from the New Jersey Prescription Monitoring Program (“NJ PMP”), law enforcement data on heroin, fentanyl and other opioid-related arrests, naloxone administrations, fatal and non-fatal drug overdoses, and treatment information. The goal of IDAD is to create a holistic picture of New Jersey’s opioid environment, help develop targeted interventions, develop analytical opioid “hot spot” data, and push notifications through the PMP to providers. Under the IDAD program, the Department of Law and Public Safety will integrate the State Police’s Drug Monitoring Initiative (“DMI”) with information from the Division of Consumer Affairs’ NJ PMP into one centralized dashboard to create a clearer picture of the opioid epidemic ranging from street drug activities to prescribing abuse. The marrying of law enforcement data with public health data will refine resources and make responses to opioid overdoses more efficient and timely. IDAD’s pilot program will be funded in part by a $600,000 federal grant obtained by the Department of Law and Public Safety.
* Enhancements to the NJ Prescription Monitoring Program (“NJ PMP”) – The NJ PMP will see its role as a vital addiction-fighting tool expanded under a series of upgrades and enhancements to the program that uses an electronic database to track information on prescription sales of narcotic painkillers and other habit-forming drugs. Proposed enhancements include adding the anticonvulsant medication Gabapentin, a drug known to enhance the effects of opioids, to the list of drugs tracked by the NJ PMP; expanding access to the NJ PMP database to certain mental health providers; and hiring a medical consultant to assist in reviewing NJ PMP data to identify and flag potential cases of problem prescribing and to assist the development of advanced data-analysis programs to identify abnormal prescribing patterns.
The Department of Law and Public Safety, which includes the Division of Consumer Affairs, the Juvenile Justice Commission, the Division of Criminal Justice, the New Jersey State Police, the Division of Law, the Division of Highway Traffic Safety, and the Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor, has broad powers to fight the opioid crisis through regulation, enforcement, criminal prosecution, and civil litigation.
Under Director Joyce, NJ CARES will coordinate the strategic use of those powers to promote new initiatives and advance existing addiction-fighting programs that helped propel New Jersey to the forefront in addressing the country’s opioid epidemic. Joyce, a 38-year veteran of the Department of Law and Public Safety and a Deputy Director in the Division of Law, was instrumental in planning and implementing many of those programs.
Among the initiatives Joyce was instrumental in planning and implementing are: the creation and expansion of the NJ PMP; the creation of rules establishing standards for prescribing opioids, and an emergency ban on several unregulated, counterfeit analogs of the highly-addictive opioid painkiller “fentanyl.”