New Brunswick community pulls together to tackle opiate abuse
Opiate abuse in New Brunswick is increasing, but local organizations are set on finding solutions rather than fretting about the problem.
This past summer, the Elijah’s Promise community soup kitchen and the Rutgers School of Public Health conducted a survey in which almost 120 Elijah’s Promise clients were asked their opinions on opiate and heroin use in New Brunswick.
Ajan Sivaramamoorthy, a Robert Wood Johnson Medical School second-year student, assisted in administering the survey and said she was intrigued by the results.
“Out of the 117 clients who participated, 63 percent stated they noticed an increase in the number of people using opiates in New Brunswick,” Sivaramamoorthy said.
While the clients interviewed were only a sample of the New Brunswick population, Sivaramamoorthy said he thought the results of the survey indicated that opiate abuse was increasing, at least on a local scale.
In fact, other studies have confirmed the rise of opiate addiction in New Jersey as well as in the rest of the United States, Sivaramathingy said.
In 2014, New Jersey’s heroin death rate was three times that of the national death rate, NJ Advance Media reported.
While in the 20 years following 1994, overdose fatalities due to prescription opioid painkillers tripled throughout the country, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
As the effects of opiate abuse become more common, an increasing number of people have sought help from institutions that can either connect them with addiction specialists or provide them with direct help, Sivaramamoorthy said.
Elijah’s Promise, specifically its Homeless Empowerment Action Response Team (HEART) program, has long offered its services to homeless people throughout Middlesex County.
One service provides addicted patients specialized assistance and resources, said Yvette Molina, director of Community Services at Elijah’s Promise.
“If we find somebody in need of substance-abuse treatment, we will conduct an assessment and then refer them to the program applicable to their medical needs or mental health needs,” Molina said.
The organizations long-term goal is to get the residents stabilized so they can eventually be emerged into the community and permanent housing, she said.
More New Brunswick residents were beginning to realize how prevalent opiate abuse had recently become, Molina said.
“Either people are related to someone affected by abuse or they know somebody,” Molina said. “Of course, this is something we need to address. We have to keep developing innovative ways to provide people who need help with various services.”
How addiction and the people afflicted by it are perceived by society plays a large role in whether or not major progress was made in curbing abuse rates, Molina said.
“We need to eliminate the stigma surrounding abuse,” she said. “Once we do that we’ll be able to start breaking down barriers to help people access the help that they really need.”
Another local organization attempting to make headway against opiate addiction is the Rutgers Brain Health Institute (BHI).
The BHI is an association of more than 250 principal investigators with neuroscience laboratories based throughout the main Rutgers campuses, including Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, said Gary Aston-Jones, director of the Brain Health Institute.
The BHI’s foremost objective is translational neuroscience, which Aston-Jones defined as “using neuroscience principles to develop new therapeutics for brain disorders.”
The BHI was currently in the process of organizing a new addiction research center at Rutgers, Aston-Jones said.
BHI aims to address the opiate addiction problem on a comprehensive scale, he said, with research extending from basic neuroscience to policy and legislative issues that can prevent or address the issue of addiction.
Both Molina and Aston-Jones said they would like to encourage students to get involved in the effort to combat substance abuse.
Students should research local non-profits and addiction support agencies, Molina said.
Those who want to learn more about this topic should visit the BHI website, bhi.rbhs.rutgers.edu, Aston-Jones said.
“We need to recognize it as a disease that can be treated, rather than a moral failing,” he said. “It’s a transition that I think is happening in the country, by and large, but it hasn’t happened fully yet.”
Nicholas Simon is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. He is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.