<p>Contact: Tony Papa 646-420-7290 or Roseanne Scotti 609-610-8243</p>
Trenton—On February 17th, thanks to a generous donation by CBS Outdoor Advertising, a billboard supporting New Jersey’s Overdose Prevention Act was erected at 23rd and River Road in Camden. It is one of five billboards donated by advertising companies across the state to increase public awareness of the new law that grants legal protections to victims and witnesses of drug overdoses who call 9-1-1 and expands access to the overdose antidote naloxone. The other billboards are located in Pennsauken, Millburn, Pleasantville, and Newark.
The debut of the Camden billboard coincides with the first-ever naloxone training in the city, run by the South Jersey AIDS Alliance and scheduled to take place on February 22 at 9:00 am. Oasis Too on 112 N 7th Street will host the event. The program will educate and train people who are at-risk of experiencing or witnessing a drug overdose in naloxone administration and equip them with small doses of the medication.
Governor Christie signed the Overdose Prevention Act into law last May in an effort to mitigate the rising number of overdose deaths in New Jersey. The law grants legal protection to victims and witnesses of drug overdoses who summon medical assistance and relaxes barriers to accessing naloxone, a prescription medication with the ability to rapidly reverse the life-threatening effects of a drug overdose.
It is already standard medical practice for paramedics to administer naloxone when summoned to the scene of an overdose, and successfully implemented naloxone programs in other states demonstrate that laypeople, including family members and peers, can be easily trained in administration.
Patty DiRenzo of Blackwood lost her son, Salvatore, to an overdose when he was only 27 years old. She campaigned tirelessly to pass the Overdose Prevention Act. After the law was signed, DiRenzo switched her efforts to education and implementation; she contacted billboard owners and asked them to donate what they usually charge for advertisements.
Five companies enthusiastically responded to DiRenzo’s request for donations: CBS Outdoor, Interstate Outdoor Advertising, Coastal Outdoor Advertising, Jersey Outdoor Media and Circle Graphics. Billboards are up, or scheduled to go up, on the corner of 23rd and River Road in Camden, Route 130 in Pennsauken, I-78 in Millburn, Route 9 in Pleasantville, and Route 1 & 9 in Newark.
In response to the donations, DiRenzo says, “I am overwhelmed with emotion at the generosity of the billboard companies and their willingness to help me promote the Overdose Prevention Act. Having this message along major highways is a huge step in raising awareness. My hope is that this will have a huge impact on getting the word out to the public and save lives going forward. I want to thank the billboard companies from the bottom of my heart for helping to make this possible. Everyone deserves a second chance.”
Georgett Watson, Chief Operating Officer at the South Jersey AIDS Alliance, is piloting the first naloxone training program in New Jersey. She says, “We are very excited to do our first training in Camden and could not be more thrilled with the opportunity to put naloxone into the hands of those who need it. A few weeks ago, a participant in our overdose prevention program came back to us and reported that she administered the drug and saved her friend's life. We think this will be the first of many lives we will save with this program.”
Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, the organization that led the effort to pass the law, said that the billboards are bringing national attention to New Jersey’s efforts to prevent drug overdose deaths. “We’ve gotten emails from as far away as California praising the billboards and the efforts to educate the public about the law.”
Overdose is a major public health problem and the leading cause of accidental death in New Jersey. These deaths are almost entirely preventable. The majority of overdose victims do not actually die until several hours after they have taken a drug and most of these deaths occur in the presence of others, meaning that there is both time and opportunity to summon medical assistance. Unfortunately, fear of arrest and prosecution often prevents people who are in a position to help from calling 911. Moreover, lack of access to naloxone means that many people who are in a position to reverse an overdose do not have the opportunity to do so.