TRENTON - A pilot program to equip New Jersey's police and first responders with a drug that can reverse the effects of a heroin overdose will be expanded statewide, Gov. Christie announced Tuesday.
The program, which trains police and emergency medical technicians to administer Narcan to overdose victims and equips them with the drug, began this year in Monmouth and Ocean Counties. Since April, 40 overdoses have been reversed in the two counties, Christie said.
"We have the ability to prevent this type of tragedy and help save lives," the Republican governor said at a news conference outside the Rescue Mission of Trenton, which provides addiction treatment. "We need to be involved in doing it."
In addition to expanding the program through county law enforcement agencies, Christie said every state police patrol vehicle soon would be equipped with the drug, which police would administer nasally.
Col. Rick Fuentes, superintendent of the state police, said 900 kits were being dispersed to the 26 patrol stations, as well as some specialty units. Training will be completed by July 1, Fuentes said.
State police also are working with state health officials to better combat the spread of heroin, Fuentes said, by "examining detailed information on every heroin seizure and overdose," and searching for patterns "that will create greater enforcement opportunities" to prevent distribution.
The cost of equipping the state police with Narcan kits will be about $28,000, said Paul Loriquet, a spokesman for the state Attorney General's Office. The office has been buying Narcan kits at $31 each, he said.
Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for Christie, said the costs of expanding the program to every county depended on how many officers each county trained and equipped.
Counties, as well as the state police, will pay for the kits through forfeited funds, Roberts said. He said training was a "largely one-time" cost, done under a model that allowed a group of officers to learn from one person and then train others.
Christie signed a law last year that shielded non-health-care professionals from liability while administering Narcan in an emergency. He also later issued a waiver enabling EMTs to administer it.
The governor's announcement Tuesday coincided with the 43d anniversary of President Richard M. Nixon's declaration of a national war on drugs, which Christie - a former federal prosecutor - took the opportunity to pan as "an abject failure" that had not tackled the underlying causes of addiction.
"What we need to understand is this is a disease," said Christie, who has backed mandatory drug court for nonviolent offenders. "We need to treat this disease and give folks who have it the tools to deal with it."