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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
The statistics behind the heroin and opioid epidemic gripping the nation are staggering. More than 33,000 people in the United States died from an opioid overdose in 2015. Estimates for 2016 show an increase from the previous year, and early totals for 2017 indicate the annual death toll will continue to rise.
But just looking at the statistics doesn’t provide a complete picture of the impact the opioid crisis is having on families and communities. “We believe we need to be out of the police car, interacting with the people of the community, finding out what issues are going on with people in the community,” said Officer Jeff Stewart of the Garfield Police Department in Bergen County, N.J.
Garfield, a city of more than 30,000 located about 15 miles west of New York City, is among the hardest-hit areas in the county. Local law enforcement has administered naloxone to overdose victims 12 times, the second-highest total among the county’s 70 municipalities.
“We want to show a proactive approach and really educate,” Stewart said. “We believe there’s got to be a heart behind the badge and not an ego.”
Stewart said that as awareness of the epidemic has increased, Garfield Police has taken a more proactive response to the issue through community policing. “We found out that the people suffering from addiction are, in fact, people,” he said. “I’ve seen people with upward of 50 packs a day for personal use, and that’s what’s driving relatively good, honest people into the chain of addiction and stealing and losing friends and family.”
Garfield’s department will continue to ramp up efforts this fall, when it participates for the first time in Knock Out Opioid Abuse Day on October 6, 2017 as part of the department’s effort to enhance its community policing approach to the opioid crisis. Knock Out Opioid Abuse Day is an opioid abuse awareness effort organized by the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey and the Community Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Morris County, in cooperation with the New Jersey Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services and the Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse.
The single-day initiative, now in its second year, has a dual focus: informing physicians, dentists, and nurse practitioners on safer prescribing practices, and providing vital information on the dangerous risks of opioids to families and residents of New Jersey. More than 2,000 volunteers distributed information on opioid abuse throughout the state on October 6, 2016.
These volunteers travel house-to-house in neighborhoods throughout the state, leaving door hangers with information on opioid abuse and the link between prescription pain relievers and heroin abuse. They also visit the offices of healthcare providers and give them copies of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention prescribing guidelines to encourage safer prescribing practices.
Police and other law enforcement personnel play a major role in the volunteer efforts, as do members of the prevention and treatment communities, local leaders, elected officials, community groups and organizations, and concerned families.
“New Jersey local, county, and state law enforcement have all been crucial partners in the success of Knock Out Opioid Abuse Day by their commitment to this unique prevention initiative that reaches out to all segments of society,” said Angelo Valente, Executive Director of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey.
In response to the success of the 2016 event, the New Jersey Senate and General Assembly unanimously approved joint legislation designating October 6 in perpetuity as Knock Out Opioid Abuse Day in New Jersey.
Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey
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