Burlington County is forming an Overdose Fatality Review Team as part of its continuing efforts to combat the substance use disorder epidemic.
The new Burlington County team is being funded with a $100,000 grant from the New Jersey Department of Health and will perform confidential reviews of overdose deaths in the county, and the circumstances and contributing causes surrounding them, according to information provided by the county. The team will also look to analyze data, identify local trends and assess current systems in place to decrease opioid deaths.
By better understanding why drug overdose deaths occur, local health officials hope to more effectively direct resources and implement policies and partnerships to prevent future overdoses, according to the statement.
According to the NJ CARES, a total of 164 people died from suspected drug overdoses in Burlington County in 2019, and another 149 died from suspected overdoses last year.
“Every overdose death is a tragedy and individual life stolen. Families and friends are heartbroken from the loss. If we can save one life from what we learn from these tragedies and apply the information to improve our response and assistance programs, it is well worth it,” Burlington County Board of Commissioners Director Felicia Hopson said in the statement. “By taking a hard look at these unique lives and the circumstances surrounding their addiction and death, we hope to better understand the epidemic here and come up with better ways to fight it. Our main goals are to save lives and help beat addiction.”
The review team will be overseen by the Burlington County Department of Human Services and Burlington County Department of Health but will include representatives from the partner agencies: Burlington County Medical Examiner’s Office, Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office, Burlington County Sheriff’s Department, Burlington County Department of Corrections, New Jersey Treatment Incentive Program, Oaks Integrated Care, Virtua Health, Beacon of Hope, Inc., Legacy Treatment Services; and Solstice Counseling & Wellness Centers.
The group will develop a more robust understanding of the circumstances surrounding fatal drug overdoses, as well as identify missed opportunities for prevention and gaps in the system. They will make recommendations about policies and programs or suggest changes in laws that might help prevent overdose deaths and better serve people at risk for overdose, according to the statement.
The team will also seek to build working relationships between local stakeholders and improve overall collaboration and communications.
“The coronavirus pandemic is not the only health crisis impacting Burlington County. We cannot forget that addiction is still claiming lives at an alarming rate,” Dr. Herb Conaway, the director of the Burlington County Health Department, said in the statement. “This review team will help us pool several resources together and develop better strategies for responding to this crisis.”
“We are eager to participate in this project to learn more about the lives and deaths of the overdose victims in our county,” Prosecutor Scott Coffina said in the statement. “We expect the cases the team reviews will shed light on potential missed opportunities for interventions with these individuals so we might be able to help others avoid such tragic ends. Anything we can do to save a life and spare a family the agony of losing a loved one to addiction is well worth our time and effort.”
The Overdose Fatality Review Team is the latest of several actions undertaken in Burlington County to combat the addiction epidemic.
Earlier this summer, the county expanded its addiction services with the launch of a Recovery Center in the County Human Services Building in Westampton. The center serves as a “one-stop” location for individuals to obtain peer support and information about treatment programs, recovery supports and community resources. It also serves as a location for wellness activities and classes, and for Narcotics and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and activities.
The Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office runs the Operation Helping Hand and Straight to Treatment programs. Both programs work with local police departments to help people struggling with addiction enter treatment.
Likewise, the Burlington County Sheriff’s Department partners with the county Human Services staff to operate the Hope One vehicle, which goes into our communities to help link residents with recovery specialists and treatment facilities, according to the statement. Hope One also provides training on the administration of overdose reversal drugs.
“In Burlington County, we recognize the extent of the addiction crisis and the impacts it has on our county’s families and communities,” Hopson said in the statement. “People are dying from a disease, not a moral failing. We are fully committed to helping those in need get the help and the support they require to recover.”