New Legislation Sponsored By Sen. Singer Will Help Combat Drug Overdose Deaths With Local Fatality Review Teams

The Ocean County Health Department (OCHD) implemented New Jersey’s first local Overdose Fatality Review Program (OFRP) model back in 2018. The goal of this trailblazing initiative is to enable OFRP teams to extract and examine important information from overdose cases and to identify common trends and pinpoint systemic issues in the hope to find sustainable solutions that will ultimately save lives.

The Ocean County Fatality Review Program (OCOFRP) was met with such success that NJ Senator Robert Singer, senior ranking member of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, convinced fellow legislators that the program should be made available in every county. The new bill – passed earlier this month – would authorize counties to establish their own overdose fatality review programs and teams.

“There are lessons we can learn from each overdose that can help avert similar deaths in the future,” said Singer in a post on his website. “Rigorous research, analysis and evaluation can help put an end to the rampant plague of overdose that threatens our loved ones, friends and neighborhoods.”

In the U.S., there were 67,367 drug overdose deaths reported in 2018 and close to 3,000 of those fatalities were New Jersey residents. The Ocean County Overdose Fatality Review Team – which includes some 30 public and private local partners – examined 138 decedent cases between 2018 and 2020. Every case has its own unique story to tell such as, when a decedent’s drug abuse began, family issues, medical background, environment and criminal history.

Daniel Regenye, OCHD Public Health Coordinator/Health Officer added, “The OCHD couldn’t be any more pleased with the passing of this new bill sponsored by Senator Singer who also serves as Vice Chairman of the Ocean County Board of Health. Now the rest of the state can use this same process as another key resource to reduce overdose deaths in their communities.”

The bill will also require the Commissioner of Health to develop a uniform, standardized reporting process for drug overdose deaths, and to forward certain information concerning each death to the appropriate local drug overdose fatality review team. Other benefits of the bill include promoting more cooperation and data sharing between state and local government agencies, develop new prevention strategies and provide recommendations for programming and policy.

“As the first fatality review model in NJ, the OCHD can appreciate this crucial legislation,” advised Kimberly Reilly, OCHD Alcohol and Drug Abuse Unit Coordinator. “Now we can continue and amplify our review process and partners and provide recommendations for policy change and the search for new funding for our residents. This comes at a time when we must now deal with the impact of COVID-19 on our population when it comes to mental health and substance abuse.”

Due to the pandemic, the Ocean County Overdose Fatality Review Program took a small break during spring 2020 but was back reviewing cases in August. The Ocean County model continues to be a mentor for other programs not only in New Jersey but across the nation.

Reilly added, “The OCHD looks forward to assisting other counties that may need our assistance moving forward putting their programs together. It’s essential to keep the overdose fatality review programs – also dubbed “Social Autopsy” – a county driven process to ensure information and data speaks to the needs of our individual communities. Eventually all of this should drive new program development, changes in policy and increased access to prevention, treatment and recovery.”

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