On Wednesday morning, volunteers in Camden fanned out across Broadway to hand out information about fighting addiction.
The cards and fliers explained New Jersey’s “good Samaritan” law, which protects people from prosecution for certain drug crimes if they call 911 while another person is overdosing. Others explained how to use the overdose-reversing drug naloxone, and some provided information about how addicts and their families can seek treatment.
Patty DiRenzo, a member of the Camden County Addiction Awareness Task Force, helped organize the walk.
“I know in my heart that these are streets that my son, when he was struggling [with addiction], was probably walking on. And it’s hard for me,” she said of her son Sal, who was found dead of an overdose in Camden in 2010.
“But, you know, I wish I guess that at the time that Sal were alive and struggling there were people out on the streets doing what we’re doing today, raising awareness and letting them know that, you know, we’re here to help and we care.”
Despite the cool, overcast weather, pedestrians clustered around the Walter Rand Transportation Center and were mostly receptive to the reflective vest-clad volunteers passing out information.
Some passers-by were curious, others excited, and a few indifferent.
Local police and advocates have begun using this and many other tactics to respond to a recent spike in overdoses in Camden County.
But while the scourge of opioid and heroin addiction is particularly salient in South Jersey, it extends across the entire state. In October, acting Attorney General John Hoffman called a heroin use and abuse an “epidemic” in New Jersey.
One of the most recent victims of that epidemic was 23-year-old Max Huffnagle, who died two months ago.
His father, Steve Huffnagle of Marlton, along with members of his union Sheet Metal Workers Local 19 in Philadelphia, was among those passing out information.
“I don’t know what the answer is. That’s probably the worst thing of all — is meeting other families and people that have children that are struggling, and there’s nothing really I can say,” Huffnagle said.
While expressing pessimism about the growing problem, Huffnagle said handing out information on preventing and battling addiction was one positive step he could take.
“We can’t just sit back and not do anything.”
Police and advocates say Wednesday’s walk will be the first of many.