United States

Program Seeks to Stem Overdoses at South Jersey Hotels, Motels

The goal is to save lives.

The Burlington County Prosecutor's Office this week announced a program aimed at curbing opioid overdoses by hotel and motel guests.

Operation Safe Overnight aims not only to save lives but also increase enforcement activity at the approximately 75 hotels and motels in Burlington County.

The properties will be provided with free naloxone kits, courtesy of Virtua. Naloxone is the generic name for Narcan, a medicine designed to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

"On Feb. 9, three contractors from Toms River died in a hotel in Voorhees of a heroin overdose," Prosecutor Scott Coffina said Wednesday at a news conference in The Hotel ML in Mount Laurel. "That is a heavy toll, probably from a particularly lethal batch of heroin that all three guys shared. Very unofficially, we have had at least 15 fatal overdoes in Burlington County hotels and motels in 2018."

Coffina said the introduction of fentanyl, "which is 50 times more powerful than heroin," has transformed the ongoing epidemic to "essentially a game of Russian roulette." Nationally, the prosecutor said, motels and hotels have been susceptible to a higher risk of overdoses as the ongoing drug epidemic "rages on."

"This groundbreaking initiative represents another approach we are incorporating into our efforts to save as many lives as possible from this deadly scourge," Coffina added.

As a part of the new initiative, the Prosecutor's Office Gang, Gun and Narcotics Task Force has also prioritized hotels and motels as a focus of its investigative and enforcement activities in 2018, the office said.

Hotel staffers joined local law enforcement at a drug education and training program Wednesday. The three-hour session included the introduction of the program and the opioid crisis; a naloxone demonstration on a dummy; and a panel discussion with law enforcement officials from Bordentown, Maple Shade, Mount Laurel and the prosecutor's office.

Hotel employees were instructed on how to identify individuals they think may be at risk for a potential overdose, and also how to keep themselves safe from exposure to dangerous drugs while maintaining guest rooms and common areas of the properties.

The prosecutor's office said statistics from NJ Cares show there have been 135 suspected fatal overdoses in Burlington County this year, which is on pace to surpass the 143 deadly overdoses last year. Naloxone has been deployed more than 770 times across the county this year.

"Opioids kill 175 people every day in the U.S.," Assistant Prosecutor Michael Angermeier said. That large death toll is similar to having a 9/11-type event 20 to 30 times a year in the country, he said.

Mount Laurel police Detective Sean Bristow said because of his town's proximity to Interstate 295, the New Jersey Turnpike and other major highways, "we're a hub in this area." Prostitution and drug deals are the biggest crimes they see at hotels and motels, he said.

"Overdoses in hotels has just grown rampantly," Bristow said. "We're using Narcan quite a bit. It just seems to be getting worse and worse."

Prosecutor's office Detective Steve Laramie gave a demonstration about how to use naloxone to revive an overdose victim. The office supplied hotel workers with naloxone kits, supplied by Virtua.

Coffina thanked the health system for partnering with the initiative.

"We are very, very grateful for Virtua's enthusiastic support of our efforts to save lives in Burlington County, not only through Safe Overnight, but also through their support in providing naloxone to our municipal police departments," Coffina said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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