The Board of Commissioners joined state and local officials on Thursday to unveil a new program that will install secure Naloxboxes in every school across Camden County. The launch of this program is in direct response to the ongoing opioid public health crisis that took more than 100,000 lives last year throughout the nation and more than 300 residents in Camden County. In addition, a 12-year-old student in the county was the victim of a fatal fentanyl overdose earlier this year due to the opioid crisis.
“We have been working to address the opioid epidemic for the better part of a decade providing tools and resources for our community. This is now the next step in that journey to combat the evolving fentanyl issue that is appearing in a variety of recreational narcotics,” said Commissioner Director Louis Cappelli Jr. “We are distributing this necessary medication to ensure that every institution in the county can respond to an overdose on school property as well as to educate students and staff about opioids, especially in the age of fentanyl.”
The Camden County Prosecutor’s Office in partnership with local police chiefs and the county Department of Health will provide schools with four naloxone kits each for both public and parochial schools. The medication will be stored in a Naloxbox, a secure metal box that holds four doses of naloxone and looks similar to an Automatic Emergency Defibrator box. Each school will be responsible to monitor usage, expiration and elimination and school officials can contact the Chief of Police if replenishment is needed.
“To lose a child to overdose is an unimaginable tragedy. This program will ensure that life-saving medicine is available in all Camden County schools, and if it saves even one life it will have been worth it,” said Congressman Donald Norcross. “Over 100,000 Americans have lost their lives to drug overdose in the last year, and I will continue to fight in Congress to deliver the federal resources our state, counties, cities, and townships need to break the stigma of addiction, increase access to treatment and confront the opioid epidemic head-on. It is heartbreaking to do this work but heartening that our neighborhoods are doing it together.”
Elia Hopkins, who works as a psychiatric and medication assisted treatment coordinator for the Center for Family Services, discussed the importance of this program.
“When it comes to substance abuse, we often hear and see the ugly, sick side of this disease but there is another side, the recovery side,” Hopkins said. “If our community is armed with the tools and knowledge to save lives, then more people will get the chance to live through it and make it to the other side.”
There will also be scheduled overdose response trainings that will be scheduled throughout the month of November for faculty and staff. This ensures that administration of the life saving medication is not solely put on the school nurse.
“The implementation of Naloxbox emergency kits in schools will save lives by giving school personnel the ability to deliver life-saving naloxone to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose on school property,” said Camden County Prosecutor Grace MacAulay. “These Naloxboxes are an all-hands-on deck approach for our communities to come together to prevent opioid overdoses. Equipping every school in Camden County with Naloxboxes puts lifesaving drugs within ready reach for quick administration to an overdose victim. Together we will fight against this opioid epidemic.”
Jacqueline Keehn, the school nurse at Black Horse Pike Regional School District, said school age children are especially vulnerable to the dangers of the opioid epidemic.
“Students are particularly at risk because they are often not aware of the true risks associated with drug use. They are impressionable and subject to peer pressure and these drugs present a great risk in every district in our county,” Keehn said. “Having the tools to address these challenges is critical in potentially saving lives but will also help in destigmatizing the conversation centered around substance misuse.”
The cost of this new initiative in all schools throughout Camden County is more than $30,000 being allocated through the Office of Mental Health and Addiction. The Naxolone is being distributed at no cost through a partnership with the state Department of Health, the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office and local police departments.
“Having our school officials up to date on overdose response, along with providing resources to help combat overdoses, will make our schools safer overall,” said Commissioner Virginia Betteridge, liaison to the Health Department. “With the opioid epidemic still gripping our communities, our schools need to be prepared for any type of emergency that may arise.”
The goal of the initiative is to install more than 250 boxes throughout the more than 150 schools by October 31.
“Through collaboration, education and the implementation of the correct resources, we can protect our children from the horrors of the opioid epidemic,” Cappelli continued. “With that said, this public health crisis still tears at the foundation of our families, friends and neighbors. And no one is immune to the effects of opioid use disorder regardless of where they live.”