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THT Convenes Community Team to Fight Drug Overdose Deaths

Trenton, NJ — Trenton Health Team and the Mercer County Department of Human Services are proud to partner with local health and law enforcement officials, community health care and social service providers, on a new strategy aimed at preventing drug-related overdose deaths in our community.

The Mercer County Overdose Fatality Review Team (OFRT), launched last year with support from the New Jersey Department of Health, convenes regularly to analyze and better understand circumstances surrounding fatal overdoses.

Members hold confidential, multi-agency reviews, convened by THT, focusing on problem solving – not finger-pointing – to address an overdose crisis that kills, on average, more than eight people a day in New Jersey.

“By studying patterns of overdose in the community, OFRT members can identify gaps in the system of care and make recommendations to help save lives,” said THT Executive Director Gregory Paulson. “Such collaboration is a nationally recognized model for addressing overdose fatalities.”

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy in March announced that 2020 year-end data shows the loss of 3,046 New Jerseyans to suspected overdose deaths. For Mercer County, the Office of the Chief State Medical Examiner confirmed 119 drug deaths during 2019, with 128 suspected drug related deaths in 2020 and 66 suspected drug related deaths this year. (See OCSME website for more details)

“Mercer County addiction and healthcare professionals have been working tirelessly to combat this epidemic,” said Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes. “This opportunity has been eye-opening to some of our partners, and has also identified missed opportunities for interventions. We will use all of this knowledge to find creative, multi-systemic solutions to reduce the overdose deaths for Mercer County residents.”

More than 30 agencies, ranging from law enforcement to addiction services, have come together to form the Mercer County Overdose Fatality Review Team (See list of members). Members review details of each death, adhering to all privacy and confidentiality legal requirements. OFRT members share a breadth of knowledge, resources and perspectives.

Team discussions are useful, said Matthew Norton, captain of Mercer County detectives in the prosecutor’s office. “We have learned of all the different agencies that can provide services to those battling addiction and my interactions during the review have enhanced my ability to refer those in need to the correct provider.”

The Mercer County Office on Addiction Services promotes and prioritizes access to treatment, funding community initiatives promoting access and participation in drug treatment, said Mercer County Department of Human Services Deputy Director Ann Dorocki. “This OFRT process allows partners to voice strategies together and to further develop partnerships in this work.”

Since convening in March, the Mercer County OFRT has reviewed more than a dozen cases. For each review, THT Director of Community Care Cheryl Towns, BSN, RN, combines information from the medical examiner’s office with data from the Trenton Health Information Exchange and other organizations to create a timeline indicating when drug abuse began, and other significant events contributing to drug use and death by overdose.

“Our ultimate goal is to stop these deaths in Mercer County and bring more awareness to the seriousness of this disease,” Towns said.

In coming months, OFRT members plan to release recommendations based on their review of real-life tragedies. Recommendations may include policy changes, interventions—such as early detection/screenings at all healthcare entry points, new partnerships or funding opportunities. Although each person’s struggle with addiction is unique, OFRT members are seeing some common issues and are working to address those.