Recovery mentors step into South Jersey's opioid crisis

Kim Mulford/Courier Post
Wednesday, August 23, 2017

On her 12-hour shift each Friday night, Kelly Sottile wait for a call for help. When it comes, she heads out to Inspira Woodbury to meet a person who was just revived from an opioid overdose - a person now in withdrawl. 

The 46-year-old recovery coach knows what to say. She kicked her own heroin habit alone in a basement 19 months ago. Faced with a reminder of her struggles, she doesn't mince words. 

Hey, you just died, she tells her patients. What do you want to do now?

Thanks to a state-funded program, hospitals in nearly every New Jersey county are leaning on people like Sottile to guide patients with addictions into treatment and recovery. But the crush of people who need their services has outstripped the resources, and some hospitals who aren't in the state's program are relying on volunteers to help. 

At Cooper Hospital in Camden, people arrive in the emergency department around the clock with opiod-related complaints, said Dr.Rachel Haroz, a Cooper emergency room doctor, toxicologist and addiction specialist. 

On a typical day, between five and 10 overdosed patients require naloxone to get them breathing again, but many more need oxygen support and observation. Others arrive with infections in their blood, spinal cords or heart linings, or abscesses from intravenous drug use. Some arrive asking for help for their addictions.

The arrival of fentanyl in Camden's heroin supply shot numbers skyward, Haroz explained. Some days bring a tidal wave of overdose victims: on July 4, 2016, for example, there were 49. 

"It's completely, completely overwhelming," Haroz said. 

In Camden and Gloucester counties, the Center For Family Services administers the state-funded project called the Opioid Overdose Recovery Program. 

Launched in January 2016 as a pilot project in a handful of hospitals, the program pay recovery specialists a $75 stipend to cover a 12-hour on-call weekend shift, responding only to patients whjo required naloxone to reverse an opioid-related overdose. At Cooper, more often than not, recovery specialists park themselves in the emergency department, instead of waiting for a call.

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