By: Follow South Jersey Staff
GLOUCESTER TOWNSHIP, N.J. — The Camden County Board of Commissioners along with officials from the NJ Health Department announced the rollout of new, enhanced, and expanded mental health and substance use disorder services on Wednesday, March 1, that are being funded by $1.2 million of funds from the state’s opioid litigation settlement.
“This is a step in the right direction when it comes to cleaning up the mess these corporations created with the opioid epidemic,” said Commissioner Director Louis Cappelli Jr. said in a press release from the county. “Providing adequate resources to those struggling with mental health and substance use disorder is the key to healing the wounds left by the opioid crisis and together, with the right programming, we can create a healthier community.”
Last year, the first of several settlements was finally reached after years of litigation between pharmaceutical companies, distributors, retailers and the state of New Jersey regarding the opioid epidemic. Based on this settlement with the four companies, Johnson & Johnson, which manufactured opioids, and the country’s three largest pharmaceutical distributors – McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen, the state of New Jersey is set to receive $641 million.
Those funds are being funneled down to counties and municipalities to assist in cleaning up the public health crisis created and fomented by these corporations.
“These new mental health and substance use disorder programs show the determination of Camden County to improve the health and wellbeing of its residents,” Congressman Donald Norcross said. “While the opioid epidemic rages on, Camden County is at the forefront of bringing evidence-based initiatives into our communities to save lives. Camden County’s Board of Commissioners inspires me to fight even harder in Congress to deliver the policy solutions our nation and neighborhoods need to address the opioid epidemic head-on.”
Over the course of the next 20 years, this settlement will pay almost $32 million to Camden County, several municipalities that have 10,000 residents or more.
The substance use disorder initiatives include:
- Introduce a mobile Buprenorphine pilot program where medically assisted treatment will be dispensed from an outreach van.
- Provide take-home kits of Naloxone to overdose and substance use disorder patients treated in countywide emergency departments.
- Provide Narcotics Overdose Prevention & Education (NOPE) in High Schools and Middle.
- Increase advertising and public service announcements about the dangers of opioids and county resources.
In 2021, the opioid public health crisis took more than 100,000 lives throughout the nation and 2,893 suspected drug related deaths statewide between Jan. 2022 and Dec. 2022. Camden County ranked second highest for overdose deaths in the state with 354 in 2022, according to the state Attorney General’s Office.
“Just this past weekend, Camden County had three young children become the victims of inadvertent opioid exposure resulting in an overdose,” said Camden County Prosecutor Grace MacAulay. “But for the timely administration of life saving Naloxone, these children’s lives could have ended in tragedy. The monetary settlement awarded to Camden County will go to the expansion of fatal overdose reduction, interdiction and prevention plans to save lives, especially the lives of our youth.”
The AG’s office also recorded an estimated 15,407 Naloxone administrations in 2022.
“Seeing how many doses of Naloxone were distributed in just one year just further proves the need for Camden County to make this life saving medication widely available for all residents,” said Commissioner Virginia Betteridge, liaison to the Department of Health and Human Services. “And with the help of the opioid litigation fund, we are going to make ensure that everyone knows how to administer Narcan and make it easily accessible so that anyone, at any time could help save a life.”
The mental health initiatives that are coming to Camden County are as follows:
- Post crisis follow-up case management services after a patient has been discharged.
- Provide school aged children who have been suspended/expelled due to mental health/behavioral issues access to a licensed clinical mental health professional at no cost. They will have expedient access to mental health clearance evaluations to return to school.
- Socialization, recreation and support group services for boarding home residents
- Introduce mental health navigators in coordination with the Project SAVE Program in the Camden County Municipal Courts. Project SAVE is a program instituted in 2018 to focus on early intervention by a licensed social service professional in the municipal court system to combat the scourge of substance use disorder. These navigators will be an outgrowth of the program with a specific mental health component co-occurring challenges of both mental illness and opioid use disorder.
“In my work, I have seen the devasting effects of substance use disorders coupled with mental health issues,” said Matthew S. Salzman, an emergency medicine physician who specializes in toxicology and addiction medicine at Cooper University Health Care. “For many years Cooper has partnered with local government, non-profit agencies, and other organizations to bring evidence-based treatments to the community. Coupled with the work we are doing at Cooper and our Center for Healing, these new initiatives will expand the resources available to promote recovery, and support people with substance use disorders and co-occurring mental illness.”
In 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published data that showed a steep increase nationwide of high school students reporting mental health crises. The CDC’s biannual Youth Risk Behavior Survey offers an overwhelming outline of the critical challenges that our community and the nation are facing in the aftermath of the pandemic.
According to this data, 37% of those surveyed reported experiencing poor mental health during the first year of the pandemic and 44% reported they felt persistently sad or hopeless over the course of 2020 to 2021.
These crises have overwhelmed emergency rooms across New Jersey. According to the New Jersey Hospital Association, Atlantic Health System has reported a 32% increase of pediatric mental health ER visits from 2019 to 2022, Hackensack University Medical Center experienced a 148% increase in pediatric ER psychiatry consults from 2019 to 2022 and Virtua Health recorded a 26% hike in mental health consultations for youth ages 17 and younger at its emergency and inpatient facilities.
In addition, the association has also pointed to a 26% increase in pediatric visits for anxiety and an 8.4% increase for depressive disorders in children.
“It’s becoming clearer that our young people are experiencing a mental health crisis unlike ever before,” Betteridge said. “Several factors have contributed to this issue, but the last three years of the pandemic have certainly taken its toll on youth state and nationwide. We are determined to provide top quality support to every child and teen here in Camden County who are struggling with their mental health.”
Many experts have debated whether the rise of technology is a factor in declining mental health among children and teens. According to the New York Times, 55 studies have found a correlation between social media use and mental health problems.
“Being a kid today is completely different than when we were growing up,” Cappelli continued. “These kids have their smartphones on them 24/7, they are constantly connected which can sometimes be positive but can also cause some serious issues like a low sense of self-esteem and anxiety. We cannot stop the advancements in technology but with our new programs, we can help children and teens navigate their way to a better state of mental wellbeing.”
These services come on the heels of the Commissioners using settlement funds to install multiple Naloxone boxes in every school, day care, library and house of worship in the county. This first of its kind harm reduction initiative has been groundbreaking throughout the community by providing a tool for anyone suffering from an overdose or exposure to an opioid in a public place.
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