OLD BRIDGE – It is time to consider opioid alternatives.
That is the message Old Bridge officials are hoping to get across to as many people as possible. And what better way than the message on a digital billboard along the busy Route 9 corridor.
The billboard’s message states: “Americans Are Now More Likely to Die of an Opioid Overdose than a Car Crash. It is Time to Consider Opioid Alternatives.”
“Jon Antal, [general manager of] Outfront Media, was more than happy to put our message up on the billboard,” said Rosemarie Rivoli, who was recently appointed coordinator for the Old Bridge Municipal Alliance for the Prevention of Substance Abuse after longtime coordinator Karen Tortoric retired.
The Old Bridge Municipal Alliance, Old Bridge Mayor Owen Henry and government, police and school officials teamed up with local businesses and the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey (PDFNJ) to tackle the opioid crisis through education and awareness billboards and posters across the township.
Along with the billboard at 2421 U.S. 9 north, which was put up on Dec. 1, posters with the same message have been hung at various businesses in the township.
“This is the first step of the New Year,” Rivoli said. “We felt it was a great way to start, especially with the corridor on Route 9. There are so many cars that will see this message and there are really no boundaries in our community. [We] are all one so we want to try to get that message across to everyone, not just for Old Bridge.”
New Jersey’s opioid epidemic continues to plague the state and the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the issue.
In 2020, more than 3,000 people in New Jersey died of a drug overdose, a majority of which involved some form of opioid. From January through September 2021, there were 11,002 naloxone administrations to reverse opioid overdoses and 2,419 suspected overdose deaths, according to PDFNJ.
In Middlesex County, from January through September 2021, there were 1,088 naloxone administrations to reverse opioid overdoses and 220 suspected overdose deaths.
“Today we are bringing an important message that has been developed for a statewide campaign and bringing it to the local level and we are doing that in cooperation with the mayor’s office, the municipal alliance and businesses,” Angelo Valente, executive director of PDFNJ, said, adding the message is much more impactful “having local officials, local organizations, someone that is trusted in the community, embrace the message and share it with their constituents.
“That is why partnerships are so important in getting these important messages out to communities about prevention and also about looking at alternatives to opioids,” Valente said.
Although the opioid epidemic continues to plague the state, Valente said an outcome of a statewide survey from Fairleigh Dickinson University, Madison, with the support of PDFNJ, is promising. The survey was released on Dec. 1.
It shows 6 out of 10 residents in New Jersey would opt for a non-opioid alternative – Aleve or Tylenol – when faced with a decision to address their acute pain. And the difference grows wider regarding decisions for their children with 8 out of 10 residents opting for an alternative, Valente said.
“We are really seeing a change in the way in which people understand what opioids do to them and also how important it is to look at alternatives to address acute pain,” he said. “We’re very excited about this. Not only through this messaging, but also through results of messaging over the years, it is showing that people are becoming much more informed, and I think they are making very important decisions.”
In the survey, some 71% of New Jersey residents who had been prescribed an opioid in the past two years recall their doctor discussing the potential risks of the medication with them.
These conversations are part of a seemingly successful statewide plan to reduce the risk of addiction, as New Jersey is one of just three states that did not see record numbers of overdoses this year, according to PDFNJ.
Nearly 2 in 5, or 38%, of New Jersey adults said they or a family member have been prescribed an opioid in the past two years.
“Many people overdosing on opioids likely developed their addiction after being given prescription opioids by their doctors and dentists,” Valente said in a press release on the survey. “What has New Jersey done differently? New Jersey was the first state to require prescribers to have conversations with patients and parents warning of the addictive qualities of opioid prescriptions while providing non-opioid alternatives, and this is proving to save lives.”
PDFNJ has been focused on reducing opioid addiction and overdoses through prescription disposal awareness, safe opioid prescribing education, and advocacy such as Knock Out Opioid Abuse Day held each Oct. 6.
Combined with the state’s efforts to expand access to treatment and recovery, as well as the widespread distribution the opioid reversal drug naloxone, New Jersey is making strides in educating and safeguarding its residents and families, Valente said.
As for Old Bridge, Rivoli said they are in the process of continuing to add more awareness programming and offer different types of training. Also in the works are programming geared towards children and afterschool activities.
“We are planning for a mayor’s forum again later on in the year and host different health and wellness fairs,” she said.
Contact Kathy Chang at firstname.lastname@example.org.