“One of the biggest problems we have just in regards to substance abuse is the opiate epidemic with the heroin, painkillers and the pills,” said Ptl. Jason Lipsett, who is one of Mantua’s drug recognition experts. “That’s the big thing here in Gloucester County and even more so now with Fentanyl in the heroin.”
Lipsett said, since 2013, as far back as the department’s online records system goes, there have been 157 reported overdoses.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an opiate overdose,” said Lipsett. “Sometimes it is people who take too many pills on purpose – a suicide attempt perhaps – or sometimes it’s an accidental overdose where it says ‘take four pills’ and they take six pills, so they call and it’s logged as an overdose. But the majority of them more than likely are what you expect when you hear ‘a drug overdose.’”
While Mantua doesn’t have it as much as other parts of Gloucester County, he said it’s still everywhere and there could be more that aren’t reported. The cases are contributing to the opiate epidemic in the state and country.
He added that substance abuse is a thing that “doesn’t discriminate” and can affect people from all walks of life, even those who people think are living “normal lives.” He clarified that substance abuse can be alcohol, Percocets, OxyContin and anti-depressants.
Changes in law enforcement in regard to substance abuse
“We’re shifting more from just the straight criminal prosecution of people who are drug-dependent, to more of trying to help them,” said Lipsett. “That comes along with the drug monitoring initiative in the county, which they monitor these overdoses, and then from the overdoses they have recommendations for post-care for those that aren’t fatal.”
The shift, he said, started in 2013 when the Overdose Prevention Act in New Jersey was signed by then-Gov. Christie, which states that a person will be immune from criminal prosecution if they “seek medical assistance for a person or themselves, in good faith,” according to the state’s Department of Law and Public Safety. Those distributing, creating or holding drugs with the intention to distribute aren’t immune from prosecution.
Since the act, he said officers now carry Narcan, drug-reversal nasal spray, in the event of an overdose and get retrained every two years with CPR training.
“The reason they went to this shift was to hopefully lower the fatal overdoses, and people are no longer in fear that if they need help because of this reaction to drugs, they will still call the police because we will help them,” said Lipsett.
He added the police department is willing to help a family with a member who is suspected of abusing drugs and mediate the communication between the groups to eventually allow the person to seek help.
“If we can talk to them before the criminal side of this, then maybe in a way, and I say it not to be rude, ‘I don’t ever want to see you again in this sense,'” he said.
Getting treated for substance abuse in the county
Lipsett said while rehabilitation facilities exist throughout the state, they don’t always have the space to accommodate more people. He recommends people use the state police’s Regional Operation Center, or contact the Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office at (609) 963-6900 and (856) 384-5500, respectively.
“They have the resources to see where there’s an opening, who we just talked to the other day, is there a new place here or there,” he said.
He said Inspira Hospital in Woodbury has a mental health center, which helps tackle the mental aspect of substance abuse.
“It definitely messes with them, and the way they treat substance abuse now is as an addiction that’s a disease,” said Lipsett. “A disease requires treatment. The only difference is people have a choice of whether they want the treatment or not.”
He added that people are more than welcome to come to the department, or a nearby hospital, and request help in narrowing down local resources, both mentally and overall treatment.
“This is a constant internal struggle for them because of being dependent on these drugs for so long to not know the feeling to not have them, which then messes with their psyche in the end,” said Lipsett.
Educating others on what to look for and how to react to a drug overdose
“Some of us have more advanced training, like Brian Hauss and myself who are drug recognition experts who have a little bit more training when it comes to the detection of drugs,” he said.
He said the signs people should look for are pinpoint pupils, the “on the nod” motion where a person slowly passes out while doing an activity, a heart rate below 60 beats per minute, blood pressure under 120 over 80 and a cooler body temperature.
“We understand that it’s hard for people that live with this person and see this person every day to notice these little inconsistencies, but if you think that someone is suffering from drug dependency, you have to heighten your senses a little bit and try to catch these clues that might make you think that,” said Lipsett.
Lipsett recalled when he had someone “test their internal clock” and count to 30 seconds and let him know when they’ve reached 30. He added he had to stop the person because they were at two minutes of silence, yet they thought they were close to the mark.
“Unfortunately, at points, it does tend to get a bit heavy for the younger kids, but there is very little way to tip-toe around this issue because it can kill you,” said Lipsett. “That’s the problem with the heroin now in New Jersey. We have some of the purest heroin in the country, and that’s why they cut it with the Fentanyl, which makes it fatal.”
Lipsett added that Narcan is becoming widely available to the general public in a variety of ways due to the epidemic, whether it’s through an over-the-counter purchase, or at the pharmacists’ desk.
“Take it out, slide it in, give it half of a twist, you see it go in, half in one nostril, half in the other,” said Lipsett. “There are varying types of Narcan, but with the same principle.”
For the public, he said it’s generally pre-loaded with the doses, so if it’s needed, it can be quickly administered during life-or-death situations. He added the county’s medics have an IV form of it, however, it’s usually the department applying it first.
“It’s one of those things where you buy it and hope you never have to use it,” said Lipsett. “When you have to use it, you want it to be as simple as possible.”
A positive outlook on substance abuse
“We’ve seen 157 overdoses over the last five years. If I really delved into it, we could see how many of these were actually fatal,” said Lipsett. “I think that number of fatals will go down as people realize that if somebody’s suffering from an overdose, they can call for help without the negative repercussions.”
He added with the existing stigmas surrounding drug use, that people, and the police, have to be able to absolve themselves of judgment and support someone who has the disease.
“If I can talk to you today and you can get help today, and that’s the turning point for you and what we had to do, then that’s a win for us,” said Lipsett. “The less that we have to take the Narcan out and less that I print out 157 overdoses over the course of five years, that’s a win.”
Free Narcan training is offered by the county throughout the year. For dates and to register, visit www.GloucesterCountyNJ.gov. A Narcan kit is provided to each attendee. The Mantua Township Police Department is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday for anyone wishing to request information in person.