Rutgers center works to reduce heroin dependency in New Jersey
As the heroin epidemic continues to plague New Jersey, the Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies is initiating new and effective ways to help combat the issue.
The Center is collaborating with Frank Greenagel, a nationally-recognized expert in the area of heroin and opioid addiction, to set up a training program for Rutgers and New Brunswick police, as well as any other interested departments, according to a press release.
This program involves teaching officers more effective approaches to giving aid to addicts and people under the influence of heroin, as well as de-stigmatizing the connotation surrounding addiction.
Greenagel said that prior to this initiative, police who encountered a person under the influence of heroin would administer an injection of Narcan — a chemical that reverses the depressive effects of opioids — and then let the person go.
This process works to prevent overdoses but does nothing to decrease the recidivism rate of addicts, which Greenagel said is a key problem they are working on.
“We are not even through the 10th month of 2016 and we have already had first responders in New Jersey use Narcan 18,000 times. Sometimes they reverse people multiple times, they might Narcan someone and then two weeks later get them again,” Greenagel said.
The initiative provides a support structure that police and first responders are unable to provide, hopefully preventing continued drug use and overdoses, he said.
The initiative at the University is different because outreach workers partnering with the police are often representatives of for-profit treatment programs and receive kickbacks for referrals to their facilities, he said. This may lead to the patient’s well-being taking a back seat to money in terms of the representative's priorities.
“It is something that Rutgers can be really proud of because there is no sort of profit motive for us, we are really trying to just help the community as best as we see fit,” he said.
Part of the process in his program is to humanize what addiction looks like by introducing them to stories of parents whose children died as a result of heroin usage, he said.
Communication and respect are two key aspects of the program that are vital for the police to understand in order to humanize addiction, said Jennifer Buckman, the interim director of the Division of Education and Training for the Center of Alcohol Studies
Many people find it difficult to treat an opioid user with respect, but doing so is an important step in moving forward, Buckman said.
“It is almost like we are expecting our police officers to have a huge background in mental health, and even mental health professionals sometimes do not know how to deal with addiction, so we are expecting them to do things that they simply have never had access to. So that is when someone like Frank can come in and really give them a different lens to work with,” she said.
The program is being funded by an endowment given to the Center of Alcohol Studies by the Christopher D. Smithers Foundation, she said.
The Center of Alcohol Studies focuses on conducting research, training and educating people to become counselors and bettering the New Brunswick community.
“We see addiction as impacting everyone in our culture on some level, whether it is a family member, the person suffering from the addiction, or all of the many different people interacting with the person who has the substance abuse disorder like the justice system, educators and even taxpayers,” Buckman said.
Lieutenant Timothy Wilmot of the Rutgers Police Department said he is looking forward to this new program.
“We will take advantage of anything that will help us better our community. We are in the process right now of scheduling this program for our officers,” Wilmot said.
Stephen Weiss is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in philosophy. He is a contributing writer with The Daily Targum.