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Montgomery Township
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Monday March 19, 2018


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Sharp Uptick in Township Residents Seeking Treatment for Heroin Abuse

Montgomery residents seeking treatment for heroin addiction spiked to 53 people in 2016—a substantial increase from three people in 2015—according to data released by the NJ Department of Human Services (DHS).

The harsh figure is the highest ever recorded in Montgomery, and means there are now two times as many people seeking relief from addiction to heroin and other opioids than from alcoholism in this rural community of highly educated, wealthy individuals.

Local police and substance abuse treatment professionals have expressed everything from disbelief to pledges of help when reviewing the cold figures, which conform to the nationwide opioid epidemic.
Montgomery Police Lt. James Gill says police have not experienced a correlated increase in the number of associated "drug-use" crimes one would expect with a large increase in the number of opioid users. Driving Under the Influence (DUI), burglaries of either homes or cars, and drug overdose rescues have remained consistent in the township over the last few years.

"There's no way these numbers can be correct," Gill says, shaking his head during a meeting at police headquarters on Rt. 206 in Belle Mead. "This number is staggering to me. This does not seem conceivable."

Montgomery Emergency Medical Services (MEMS) and the police have successfully used the life-saving antidote naloxone (Narcan(r)) to reverse 13 unintentional opioid overdoses since 2010. In a town of nearly 21,000 people, this is a serious problem, but it does not seem to indicate an epidemic, Gill says.
While the police would not give the names of the overdose victims, they did say the victims ranged in age from 16 to 50; two were female, 11 male. "We are here to help them, not to arrest them," says Police Director Thomas L. Wain. "The problem is a disease, and we will facilitate treatment for them."

Wain cited the recent New Jersey Good Samaritan drug overdose law, which grants immunity to addicts who overdose and to the person who dials 911 or otherwise seeks help. "But you have to call," Wain says. The law, signed in 2013, is in place to "encourage people who may be high on drugs themselves, to do the right thing when a life is in danger."

"We will do whatever it takes," Wain says. "We are open 24-7, so we are here at 2 am on a Saturday when you may need help."

The police did not have figures on opioid-related deaths in Montgomery, nor did the NJ Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services. The division collects and monitors abundant data through the Web-based New Jersey Substance Abuse Monitoring System (NJSAMS). Addiction treatment providers, including detox hospitals, residential programs, halfway houses, and outpatient care centers, are required to report admissions data on the system.

Across New Jersey, heroin and opioids killed about 2,000 people in 2016, according to NJ Advance Media. Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine, morphine, and many others, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Montgomery resident and Carrier Clinic CEO Donald J. Parker says he believes the heroin treatment numbers of 2016 are accurate. "We are one of the treatment centers that reports numbers to the state," he says. Carrier is a private, non-profit clinic that specializes in psychiatric and addiction treatment and serves more than 6,000 patients annually. It is one of the largest providers of substance abuse treatment in the state.

"I think what happened is that we were extremely low in 2015," with only three Montgomery residents seeking treatment for heroin addiction, Parker says. The 2016 numbers are still in the lower quadrant when compared to other communities statewide.

"I think Montgomery was insulated (from the opioid epidemic) due to the strength of family values," he says. "I live in Pike Run and I walk all the time. I see moms and dads out walking with their kids and often with the grandparents as well. As much as you try to protect your family members, the addictive properties of this drug are so strong that it eventually got to Montgomery."

The pathway to opioid addiction often begins with a trusted source—the family doctor. "Physicians have not historically written the number of prescriptions they write today," Parker says. "Pain has become a fifth vital. Doctors will ask: 'how do you rate your pain?' And, they are graded on their ability to ease that pain.

"And, a number of pharmaceutical companies—some of them in our area—have aggressively marketed opiate painkillers to our doctors," he says. Gov. Chris Christie has looped in pharmaceutical companies in his campaign to fight opioid abuse.

The opioid story is well told and known in Montgomery, but the science of addiction is just unfolding.
Puzzling, for example, is why some people develop all-consuming compulsions.

"Some people are predisposed, and often have multiple addictions," says Steven J. Drzewoszewski, director of the 40-bed Blake Recovery Center at Carrier Clinic in Belle Mead, which is on the frontline of battle against opioid abuse.

While opioids are highly addictive, Drzewoszewski says he believes many more people in Montgomery actually suffer from alcoholism. Alcohol abuse goes underreported, he says, because it is more socially acceptable and people seem to remain functional for a longer period of time.

"People get heavily addicted to opioids very fast," he says. It could take an alcoholic, "30 years to seek a first treatment, where an opioid addict has about a two-year progression before seeking their first treatment."

Therapists say the warning signs are more obvious with heroin abuse as well, with the family home often operating in "lock down" mode as money and valuables begin to go missing.
While no one is able to answer the question for sure regarding the dramatic increase in Montgomery residents seeking treatment for heroin addiction, Department of Human Services Spokesperson Ellen Lovejoy says the data in the report are accurate.

When asked point blank whether the state agency may have made an error when tabulating the numbers for Montgomery Township in 2015 or 2016, Lovejoy said, "The data is extremely reliable."

One reason heroin addiction is rising, other than the obvious – doctors overprescribe it - is simple economics. In many cases, opioid prescription duration is for just long enough to result in addiction in those susceptible to it. Addicted patients are commonly refused prescription renewals and find that heroin bought on the street is cheaper than legally prescribed opioids. Also, as cited in a recent New York time story, many insurance companies have been willing to pay for the more powerful—and addictive—opioids such as Oxycontin, but not the more expensive but less addictive alternatives. Oddly, they also pay for addiction treatment. Go figure.

According to the National Council on Alcohol Abuse, more than 6% of American adults are alcoholic. It's not unlikely that an alcoholic on opioids would very quickly find himself hopelessly addicted.
Meanwhile, there are self-help groups available locally at the 24-Club of Princeton on Montgomery Rd. in Skillman, among other locations. An Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meeting list is printed on the pages of the Montgomery News every month and available online at www.24club.org. Meeting lists for Narcotics Anonymous are also available online at www.narcoticsanonymousnj.org and www.nnjaa.org. The life you save may be your own.

The Montgomery/Rocky Hill Municipal Alliance talks a great game and just received a $19,000 grant from the State. Perhaps they could coordinate something being done in 300 municipalities in 31 states called "Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative," under which authorities reach out to find treatment for addicts who ask for help instead of locking them up.


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