An easy way to help save drug-overdose victims has run up against something that is never easy - dealing with our state's bureaucracy.
A drug called naloxone can often jumpstart an opiate overdose victim back to consciousness. It is sold as a nasal spray under the brand name Narcan, among others, for about $25 a dose.
In Ocean County, which saw 112 fatal drug overdoses last year - more than double the previous year's total - Prosecutor Joseph Coronato wants police officers to carry Narcan as one more weapon in the fight against drug deaths.
But officers who are also emergency medical technicians - a common crossover - fear that they'll face the loss of their EMT licenses if they administer the drug. The problem is that while a law signed last year protects both civilians and medical professionals such as doctors and nurses from liability for using naloxone, administering the drug is outside the scope of practice of EMTs.
So are police officers who are also EMTs immune from liability for trying to save someone's life with Narcan spray, or aren't they?
The answer to that question can only come from the state Department of Health, which mandates what EMTs can and can't do. A waiver from the department would allow EMTs to administer the drug.
That should be simple. It was clearly the intent of the Legislature to make naloxone widely available. And if it's OK for civilians to administer naloxone, why in the world would you want to keep it out of the hands of EMTs?
But, so far, the Department of Health has not issued such a waiver. What's the holdup?
The primary reason drug-overdose deaths are on the rise is the ready availability of cheap heroin throughout New Jersey. Today's heroin is so pure that first-time users , who might balk at needles, can snort, smoke or ingest it. Users often first become addicted to prescription pain-killers and gravitate to heroin because it is easier to get. And drug dealers now use social media to reach into the suburbs and arrange deliveries.
This all has changed the face of heroin addiction, and it is no longer possible to see addicts as some "other" category of person, outside our experience. Many families throughout southern New Jersey who never thought they would have any connection to drug addiction now face this tragedy.
The people dying of drug overdoses are our neighbors and our children.
It simply makes no sense for the state to drag its feet in clearing up this question and getting this drug into the hands of people who can use it to save lives.