Camden County to provide free detox, treatment for overdose patients

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 Patty DiRenzo is a member of the Camden County Addiction Awareness Task Force, which developed Operation SAL. Her son, Sal Marchese, died of an overdose five years ago. (Joe Hernandez/WHYY)

Patty DiRenzo is a member of the Camden County Addiction Awareness Task Force, which developed Operation SAL. Her son, Sal Marchese, died of an overdose five years ago. (Joe Hernandez/WHYY)

It has become commonplace to call high rates of opiate and heroin addiction in New Jersey an “epidemic.”

In Camden County alone, there have been more than 330 overdoses reversed by Naloxone this year.

But now, the county is trying to change the status quo.

Officials announced a program Wednesday that will provide free detox and outpatient addiction treatment to any overdose victims who arrive at local hospitals after being saved by Naloxone.

“Once folks are taken to the emergency room, they’re given a card with some information, and that’s it,” said freeholder director Louis Cappelli.

“We’re hoping that the [employees] in the emergency room will have some success in convincing some of the addicts that it’s time to get some help.”

Under the program, hospital staff will inform drug users of their option to participate in outpatient detox followed by intensive outpatient treatment at Delaware Valley Medical in Pennsauken.

From there, patients will be wait-listed for a bed at a more permanent facility or released under the guidance of a case manager.

“Without treatment, there is no hope,” Cappelli said.

Earlier this month, acting Attorney General John Hoffman declared a heroin “epidemic” in the state, affirming that New Jersey has among the purest heroin in the country.

Experts say many addicts start by taking opioids such as prescription painkillers and eventually graduate to heroin, which is cheaper.

The program in Camden County is called Operation SAL, which stands for “save a life.”

But it is also meant to memorialize Sal Marchese, a Camden County resident who died of a heroin overdose five years ago.

Marchese’s mother, Patty DiRenzo, is a member of the Camden County Addiction Awareness Task Force, which developed the program.

“If Sal wasn’t the boy that he was, I probably couldn’t do this,” DiRenzo said. “But he was a beautiful boy. And I have to save lives for him and know that … he didn’t die in vain.”

The county. is fronting $150,000 from a fund for homeless prevention to kickstart the program, which it estimates will pay for treatment for about 50 people. If the program is successful, according to Cappelli, the county will seek out sponsorships for future funding.

The four health systems participating in the program are Kennedy Health, Virtua, Cooper University Health Care, and Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center.

A similar program has already been operating for several months in Ocean County, according to Al Della Fave, a spokesman for the county prosecutor’s office.

He said the program has been working well in Ocean, but one issue for officials there has been the inability to follow up with patients.

“Our problem right now and in the next phase we’re working toward is figuring out how to track these people effectively,” Della Fave said, “because HIPAA regulations are preventing us from capturing data.”

Operation SAL should be up and running by next month.

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