Opioid treatment 'badly broken,' survivors tell Andy Kim
TOMS RIVER - New Jersey and the nation as a whole have gone to extraordinary lengths to halt the opioid epidemic, yet it continues to claim more lives every day.
On Saturday, about 100 people gathered at the Ocean County Library here to discuss what more needs to be done.
“I’m not the person who has all the answers,” said Rep. Andy Kim, D-N.J., who hosted the town hall event. “What I am here to do today is talk with all of you, many of you who know this issue much better than I do, who have lived it and suffered through the tragedies.”
There was a wealth of collective wisdom in the room, the kind no one wants to acquire from first-hand experience. Several speakers shared heart-rending stories of loss, as well as their frustration and anger over a drug treatment system that one grieving mother called “badly broken.”
Lisa Cook’s 25-year-old daughter, Danielle Dodrill, overdosed on fentanyl-laced heroin in April 2018.
“She died at home. I found her,” said Cook, of the Bayville section of Berkeley Township.
While fast-acting first responders save thousands of lives each year in New Jersey alone by reviving overdose victims with the Narcan opioid antidote, without a better coordinated treatment system in place, many in the grip of addiction simply keep overdosing until their luck runs out, several speakers told Kim. John Shaw, a North Jersey fireman from Brick, said the record in his fire department is three Narcan saves of the same person in a single day.
“It’s just an endless cycle,” he said.
There is hope, however, speakers stressed. Watch the video below to hear the story of a Toms River mom who has successfully recovered from opioid addiction.
Perhaps the most controversial idea floated at the session came from attorney Stephen Willis, who told Kim that there needs to be a way to force someone into treatment after they’ve been revived by Narcan, whether they want to go or not. Florida’s Baker Act, for example, allows for the involuntary commitment of someone with a mental illness or addiction for up to 72 hours.
The suggestion from Willis, co-founder of HOPE Shed Light, a Toms River nonprofit that helps families going through an addiction crisis, drew audible groans from some in the audience.
One recurring theme at the town hall was a shared sense of exasperation over health care privacy laws that keep many parents in the dark about their children’s struggles with addiction, not only when they’re adults but also during their adolescent years.
Barnegat resident Kelly Walsh told Kim that her son Thomas, who became addicted to heroin, refused drug treatment while he was hospitalized for being suicidal at age 16. There was nothing she and her husband could do about it, she said. Their son died of a carfentanil overdose in 2017 at age 19.
“Unfortunately my son will not benefit from anything you put forth,” Walsh told Kim. “But I hope that … going forward, and hearing everyone here, and knowing how broken the system is, that it’ll help other people.”