UPPER TOWNSHIP — The 30 or so people who came in to Village Pharmacy on Tuesday morning to pick up a free naloxone kit cut across genders, ages and life situations — making them representative of the wide-reaching opioid epidemic.
Many were parents picking up the emergency overdose reversal drug in case the unthinkable should happen to their loved ones.
“We’re seeing family members coming in (out of) concern for their loved ones, whether it’s a direct family member, extended family, so forth,” said John Brittin, who co-owns the pharmacy with his wife, Terry. “And that’s the majority of people.”
Village Pharmacy participated in a one-day state program to get help into the hands of people who need it. The store was given 96 units of reversal drug, which retails for about $130, according to Brittin, 54, of Marmora.
Interested parties in South Jersey could walk into select pharmacies across the state with no appointment or prescription necessary.
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal gave a “standing order” to participating pharmacies that signed up to dispense the product, making him, in effect, the prescriber, Brittin said.
The one-day event was part of a pilot program approved by the New Jersey Board of Pharmacy, according to the Governor’s Office.
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“The scourge of opioids continues to devastate families and communities across our state, and we must do everything we can to end the opioid epidemic,” Gov. Phil Murphy said in a statement. “Through this initiative, people who are battling with addiction will be able to receive access to this critical medication and help them get on a path to recovery.”
Parts of South Jersey, including Atlantic County, are hot spots for the epidemic felt across the state. More than 3,100 people died of drug overdoses in New Jersey in 2018, according to the state Department of Health. First responders in New Jersey administered naloxone more than 16,000 times in 2018, according to Grewal.
Terry Brittin, 57, said people who came in were “extremely grateful” for the giveaway.
“It’s been educational for people. And it’s brought a lot more awareness,” she said. “I’m keying in on the younger generation and their friends. Those first few minutes are just so important, and that’s what we’re looking at.”
Grewal called naloxone a “critical component” in saving lives.
“By participating in the Murphy administration’s pilot program to provide naloxone free of charge, New Jersey pharmacies are not only expanding access to this life-saving drug, they’re reinforcing their role as vital allies in the battle to end New Jersey’s opioid crisis,” Grewal said.
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Instructions and tips were handed out with the naloxone, which contained two uses. And pharmacy owners kept a log — which is “completely, 100% anonymous,” according to John Brittin — to keep track of how the units were distributed.
“Essentially, what it comes down to is allowing family members to come in without social repercussions,” he said.
A clerk at the pharmacy, Michael Winder, 25, of Dennis Township, said workshops in the area on how to properly dispense the reversal drug are a good companion to the program because naloxone is only needed in an emergency, when panic can set in.
“I think that’s a really good idea,” Winder said. “I think being able to use it appropriately is also important, whether it’s for yourself or for a loved one. Because it doesn’t matter if you have it if you don’t know what to do with it.”