Jefferson Health NJ cited for providing overdose antidote
CHERRY HILL – As he presented Jefferson Health New Jersey President Joe Devine with a proclamation, U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross said quietly, “You’re saving lives … there can be no higher calling.”
As one of the Philadelphia-South Jersey region’s largest health care providers, Jefferson’s mission is saving lives, but on Monday the system was singled out for its work saving the lives of a particular group of people: Those who are struggling with heroin or opioid addiction.
“There is probably no greater issue for us to address than the opioid issue,” said Devine, speaking at Jefferson’s open, airy new main building in Cherry Hill.
Norcross, a member of the Congressional Bipartisan Heroin Task Force, said one person dies of a heroin or opioid overdose each day in New Jersey’s 1st Congressional District, which stretches from Cinnaminson past Bridgeport, from Camden down to Winslow.
“Our cost of doing nothing is in the body counts we see,” Norcross noted. “The cost of what we are doing is in the productive lives” that those in recovery are able to lead.
Jefferson for the last three years has supplied police departments in Camden County with naloxone, a drug which can temporarily reverse an opioid or heroin overdose, according to Ken Bevenour, corporate director of pharmacy services. It’s supplied naloxone, also known by its brand name, Narcan, to police departments in Gloucester County, for four years.
Each dose costs about $60, he said, and Jefferson has spent about $30,000 so far, he estimated. Adapt Pharma, the company that Jefferson purchases its naloxone from, offers discounts to organizations that have programs to combat the heroin and opioid epidemic.
“The revenue (from treating those with addiction) will never make up for the cost,” Devine noted. “But it’s the right thing to do.”
“For years, I’ve thought (the heroin and opioid epidemic) was the biggest threat to our national security,” said Henry Schuitema, an emergency room physician with Jefferson. “But nobody understood it.
“Finally, we’re starting to see encouraging signs on the front lines, and our elected officials have never done so much to help the people affected by addiction.”
Treating addiction presents clinicians with unique challenges, he said.
“There are dire effects of addiction, but then there’s a cascade of others: depression, homelessness, isolation, and it often ends in suicide. Not to mention the violence and infections they deal with on an everyday basis.
“It’s really a very difficult existence, and if you ask anyone who’s struggling in active addiction if they wish they could stop right now, they’d almost always say yes.”