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TRENTON – Department of Human Services (DHS) Acting Commissioner Elizabeth Connolly today commemorated International Overdose Awareness Day by honoring the lives lost to drug overdoses and promoting a state law aimed at reducing them.

“All over the world, August 31 is set aside to remember people who died from an overdose and to recognize the pain and stigma suffered by the loved ones they left behind,” said Connolly. “These are not just famous people in the news who are losing the fight against this fatal disease. These are our neighbors, our relatives, our friends.”

Connolly also said she wants to remind people and promote awareness about a three-year-old law that grants prosecutorial immunity to most people who call emergency personnel when they suspect someone they are with is overdosing.

On May 2, 2013 Governor Chris Christie signed the Overdose Protection Act – also known as the Good Samaritan Law.

“Save a life. Don’t think twice, just call 911 – that’s the message we want to get out,” Connolly said, noting that the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services within DHS conducted a widespread public outreach initiative to raise awareness of the new law.

“Although there is no way of knowing exactly how many lives have been saved because of the new law, Connolly said, but added, “Each life is worth saving and stressed that she is determined to continue raising awareness.

“We still need to get the word out that, in most cases, a person is now immune from prosecution if they try to prevent a fatal overdose, even if they are ingesting the drug themselves,” Connolly said. “In a lot of cases, people don’t report overdoses because they are scared that they will be arrested. That fear can put a life in danger. Many overdoses can be stopped with swift medical intervention.”

“Governor Christie has sent a strong message that he wants to save lives and in most cases, forego prosecution of people who report an overdose situation,” said Commissioner Connolly. “I think this message is resonating throughout the state.”

The new law also encourages wider prescription of antidotes that can counteract opioid overdoses. Wider use of antidotes is one of things promoted by the organizers of the national day of recognition. DMHAS continues funding training on how to use the antidote naloxone to professionals, families and friends throughout the state and also has distributed the naloxone kits. Since April 2014, there have been more than 17,000 deployments of Narcan by law enforcement and EMS agencies throughout New Jersey.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,‎ drug overdose death rates in the US have more than tripled since 1990 and have never been higher. In 2009, more than 37,000 people died from drug overdoses, and many of these deaths were caused by prescription painkiller opiate drugs, such as oxycodone.
International Overdose Awareness Day was initiated by the Salvation Army in Australia in 2001 to provide family members a special day to mourn their loved ones and teach others of the dangers of drugs.
In addition to radio interviews and widespread distribution of information about the new law to community-based programs, DHS’ initiative also includes outreach to schools, colleges, drug treatment facilities, medical personnel, and behavioral health professionals. The Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services has spearheaded an overdose prevention committee and partnered with the Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse to continue developing a widespread, detailed outreach aimed at reducing overdoses.

If you have a substance abuse problem and need help please call  the New Jersey Addictions Services Hotline  at 1-844-276-2777.
For more on the dangers of prescription painkillers please visit:

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