PO Box 360
Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

For Release:
August 31, 2023

Kaitlan Baston, MD, MSc, DFASAM
Acting Commissioner

For Further Information Contact:
Office of Communications
(609) 984-7160

NJ Health Department Approves New Harm Reduction Center, Highlights Overdose Prevention Efforts on International Overdose Awareness Day

TRENTON –As the state marks International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31, the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) remains committed to ending the overdose crisis and has approved the state’s first new harm reduction center (HRC) in five years. NJDOH also announced new funding for comprehensive harm reduction services throughout the state. 

Governor Murphy issued a proclamation declaring August 31 as Overdose Awareness Day "to remember individuals who were lost to drug overdose and to support their families and loved ones, and to galvanize action towards ending preventable overdose deaths."

Nationally, drug overdoses have claimed over 932,000 lives over the past 21 years and annual deaths are growing, with more than 100,000 reported in 2022, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2022, 3,000 people in New Jersey lost their lives to overdose.

“This Overdose Awareness Day, we join the many thousands of New Jersey residents impacted by overdose in shared grief, remembrance, and determination to end this public health crisis,” said Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Kaitlan Baston. “Our resources must match the scale of the epidemic, which now claims the lives of more than seven residents every day. These new initiatives underscore the Department’s commitment to innovative, evidence-based, and community-driven solutions for the individuals and families who need them the most.”

Harm reduction centers are community-based programs that offer a safe, trauma-informed, non-stigmatizing space for people who use drugs to access naloxone, sterile syringes, and other safer use supplies. They also facilitate safe disposal of used syringes and provide access or referral to wraparound services, such as substance use disorder treatment, health care, and services that address basic needs. In January 2022, Governor Murphy signed legislation expanding harm reduction efforts.

New Jersey began accepting new applications for harm reduction centers in July 2023. The newly approved center is run by the Visiting Nurse Association of Central Jersey, which currently operates a center in Asbury Park. The agency was approved to stand up a mobile unit to operate in Asbury Park, Eatontown, Keansburg, Keyport, Long Branch, and Red Bank in Monmouth County, and Brick and Toms River in Ocean County. Start dates will be announced in the coming weeks.

The new harm reduction center joins the state’s existing centers in Atlantic City, Asbury Park, Camden, Jersey City, Newark, Paterson, and Trenton. Federally qualified health centers, substance use treatment programs, AIDS service organizations, public health agencies, and other entities interested in becoming a harm reduction center can apply at www.nj.gov/health/hivstdtb/hrc. Funding to support new and existing HRCs is currently undergoing a Request for Applications process, which can be accessed on NJDOH’s Directory of Grants page.

NJDOH also released a new biennial report for 2020-2021, which provides an overview of Department-funded harm reduction services and highlights the many accomplishments of the state’s HRCs, including over 1,000 new individuals seeking services each year and over 1.4 million syringes safely dispensed in 2021.

All of these initiatives build on other actions taken by the state to combat the overdose crisis. 

In March 2023, in response to growing racial disparities in overdose deaths, NJDOH launched its overdose hotspot outreach initiative, prioritizing areas of the state with high disparities and high rates of overdose among Black residents. In partnership with local community organizations, NJDOH is distributing naloxone, fentanyl test strip kits, hygiene kits, and other material resources for individuals at risk of overdose.

Next month, NJDOH will receive the first installment of a four-year federal grant totaling nearly $3.2 million from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to strengthen first responder overdose response and linkage to care. Specifically, the grant will 1) expand and improve the NJDOH’s nationally recognized Five Minutes to Help EMS training program through enhanced content on overdose disparities and development of a comprehensive training platform, and 2) pilot the Medication for Addiction Treatment & Electronic Referrals (MATTERS) Network in communities with high racial disparities in overdoses. The MATTERS Network is a model program originally implemented in New York that utilizes an electronic platform to promptly refer patients who overdose to community-based, high quality treatment and harm reduction services, in the Emergency Department and EMS settings.

These initiatives to improve linkage to care and access to harm reduction services are aligned with recommendations from New Jersey’s local Overdose Fatality Review Teams, outlined in the recently released FY21 Overdose Fatality Review Teams Report (OFRTS). OFRTs conduct comprehensive reviews of overdose deaths and provide local and state policy recommendations to prevent future deaths.  This is the first annual report from New Jersey OFRTs, which now operate through local health departments in all 21 counties.

Follow the New Jersey Department of Health on X (formerly Twitter) @njdeptofhealth, Facebook /njdeptofhealth, Instagram @njdeptofhealth, Threads @NJDeptofHealth, and LinkedIn /company/njdeptofhealth.

Last Reviewed: 8/31/2023