FLEMINGTON – Seventeen people died of suspected drug overdose deaths in Hunterdon County last year.
While that number is down from a spike of 22 overdose deaths in 2017, it’s a rise from 13 overdose deaths in 2019, according to www.njcares.gov.
And the problem doesn’t seem to be improving, especially with fentanyl showing up in many street drugs.
Hunterdon County officials recently unveiled the Hope One Van, the newest initiative in the fight against drug abuse.
The Hope One Van’s core mission is to offer education and lifesaving resources at events throughout the county to help those struggling with drug use and addiction.
Hunterdon County Board of Commissioners Director Sue Soloway and Deputy Director John E. Lanza joined representatives of the county Department of Human Services and Sheriff Fred W. Brown in the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the van, which will make its debut from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 16 at the Flemington Area Food Pantry in Raritan Township.
The county’s social services team also hopes to be on board to enroll people in SNAP, Medicaid and other programs.
“As director of the County’s Commissioner Board, I am proud to support this important endeavor on behalf of our residents, and I pray that Hope One will make a positive difference in the lives of those suffering with addiction,” Soloway said in a statement. “As a mother and grandmother, I cannot imagine the pain that a family must face when they lose a loved one to addiction. My heart goes out to all those who struggle daily with addiction and mental health issues.”
The county’s Department of Human Services will support the van through an innovation grant from the state’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
“The goal is really to reduce opioid use and opioid deaths by promoting either abstinence from substances and also educating the community about Narcan and naloxone,” said Hunterdon County Human Services Director Meagan O’Reilly, “and we hope to be trained fairly soon by the state so that we can train in the field on administering naloxone, so we can train friends and family of people who do use substances.
“Sometimes folks don’t know where to go. They know there is an issue, or they suspect there is an issue so sometimes it’s just starting that conversation and giving them some tools to help their loved one,” she said. “It’s just bringing the message that there are services here, there are places that you can go if you want the assistance.”
While Raritan Township is the first destination of the Hope One Van, the county is working on arranging other locations.
O’Reilly said she hopes the van will get to each municipality this year. If the events are held, she’s hoping to have the van at a National Night Out event in August as well as the annual 4-H Fair.
“Our goal is target certain areas based on information from the sheriff’s office and the prosecutor’s office, if there are hot-spot locations where we want to go,” she said. “We’re looking to get up to at least two days a week, but we’re starting with a soft rollout of two days per month.”
O’Reilly reiterated opioid use is a problem in Hunterdon County, especially with fentanyl.
“It’s really a scary time for anybody who is using,” she said. “Pills that are opioids may contain fentanyl that are produced on the street.
“Part of the problem you hear now from the prosecutor’s office is that some of the batches are more deadly or more intense, so instead of just having one dose of Narcan to save someone, you have to administer three different doses sometimes to revive people. I think that’s where it’s become more problematic,” she said.
O’Reilly said the pandemic is making some people reluctant to seek help.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has created a scenario where people who may have been more likely to go to treatment or seek treatment, they are not doing it because they are afraid now that on top of the stigma and everything else, they are going to get COVID-19 if they go into an in-patient program,” she said. “It seems like the pandemic has further isolated people with substance abuse Some people really rely on AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and those meetings. They still exist, but they are virtual, and it’s not face to face, it’s just a different atmosphere.
Additional information about the Hope One Van including where it will be traveling to is at www.co.hunterdon.nj.us/humanservices.htm or by calling 908-788-1253.
Suzanne Russell is a breaking news reporter for MyCentralJersey.com covering crime, courts and other mayhem. To get unlimited access, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.