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Camden County announces new mental-health, substance use initiatives

Programs will be funded by a $32 million opioid settlement

Dr. Paschal Nwako, Camden County Health Officer speaks on the new mental health and substance use disorder initiative on Wednesday, March 1. (EMILY LIU/The Sun)

Camden County officials announced new initiatives and programs on March 1 that will address mental health and substance-use disorder.

The programs will be funded with settlement money from opioid manufacturer Johnson and Johnson and the country’s three largest pharmaceutical distributors, McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen.

“The money coming from these lawsuits, like the county director said, will not erase the pain or anguish that so many people have suffered,” said Dr. Paschal Nwako. “However, we will make possible inroads that will have lasting effects.”

As part of nationwide opioid litigation settlements, New Jersey received $641 million that will  amount to $32 million annually for the next 20 years. The funds will go to Camden County and several municipalities with 10,000 residents or more, according to the county’s press release.

While some programs are expansions or continuations of those that exist now, the funding will enable the county to serve residents with the following substance use initiatives:  

  • A mobile pilot program where people receive Buprenorphine from an outreach van to help wean them ease off opioids
  • Take-home kits of Naloxone, used to reverse an overdose or to help patients with   substance use disorder in county-wide emergency departments
  • Narcotic Overdose Prevention and Education (NOPE) sessions in county middle and high schools.
  • Spreading awareness of county resources and the dangers of opioids through increased advertising and public service announcements.

The initiative will take place in tandem with mental-health programs, according to Caryelle Lasher, director of the county Department of Health and Human Services. Among them are  follow-up case management services for patients who have been discharged after a crisis. About 95 percent of people who go into crisis don’t meet the criteria to become an inpatient.

“So they’re discharged and that’s a huge gap of opportunity that we can really address (for) these people who have made it to crisis, because they are in a condition that they believed they needed to be there,” Lasher explained. 

“Now we have a warm handoff and a safety net for those individuals, so we can make sure that we can meet them where they’re at and get them a level of care that’s appropriate for them …”   she added. “We’d be working with these patients to make sure they’re discharged with a safety net of resources and wrap-around services.”

Other mental-health initiatives include the creation of a behavioral health hub to address more issues than what current urgent care centers offer, according to Lasher.

Nwako said one effort will be to expedite students’ return to school after they’ve been expelled or suspended because of mental-health or behavior issues, including feelings of wanting to hurt themselves or others. The hope is to get them seen by a licensed clinical  professional at no cost, which will be expected to lower the number of patients in emergency rooms. 

“It’s a work in progress and right now, it’s in the preliminary stages,” he noted.

Delia Burgos, certified peer recovery supervisor at Maryville Addiction Treatment Center in Pemberton, noted that although many mental-health and substance-use resources are available, it’s important to continue talking about them to let people know they can get treatment even if they don’t have insurance.

“We don’t let that be a barrier for us,” she pointed out, “which a lot of people don’t understand.”  

To stay up to date on the county’s mental-health and addiction task force, visit https://www.camdencounty.com/service/mental-health-and-addiction/

To learn more about the resources available at Maryville, visit https://www.maryvillenj.org/resources/

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