By: ATSI Admin
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Ocean County New Jersey Authorities Want Overdose Answers
Law enforcement and health authorities in Ocean County, New Jersey are looking to hospitals to provide them with much needed information about drug overdoses in the county. Hospitals seem willing to cooperate, but are saying the information is harder to compile than law enforcement thinks.
Assessing the Numbers
Over the past decade, heroin and prescription drug overdoses have become serious problems in New Jersey. According the state’s Department of Human Services Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services, in the year 2012 there were 3,683 substance abuse admissions to hospitals for heroin and opiates in Ocean County. Ocean County has the highest incidence of overdoses and overdose deaths in the state, and authorities want more complete statistics so they know where to implement prevention and education campaigns. While some data are available, many don’t believe they are accurate, and that more information is needed.
“I want to see how many overdoses go through the emergency room. Then I want to get a ratio of how many ODs we’re dealing with in the county and how many are resulting in death,” said Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato. “But we don’t want names. We don’t want patient-specific information. We just need the numbers. Are the statistics showing one in four overdose victims die, or one in five? We have no idea. Being able to cull out this data will help me identify the magnitude of the problem.”
Difficult Numbers to Compile
Hospitals in the county say they are providing as much information as they can. HIPAA regulations, along with the way data is recorded, makes it very difficult to boil the numbers down the way law enforcement wants. Some drugs don’t show up in drug tests, and hospital staff and medical examiners cannot assume what types of drugs are in a person’s system, even if evidence makes it seem clear.
“We understand the frustration of not having one central source for gathering and dissemination of aggregate data. We are not required to report drug overdose data, therefore, we do not routinely track it,” AtlantiCare spokeswoman Jennifer Tornetta said. “We regularly provide information to law enforcement following HIPAA guidelines as mandated by law. HIPAA is meant to protect patient privacy, not hinder law enforcement.”
Finding More Accurate Info
The lack of data is a frustrating problem for law enforcement officials who are trying to curb the raging opiate epidemic in the state. “I’m asking hospitals for the total overdoses by ZIP code and by drug classification, and I know they have it. We’re trying to save lives,” said local police Chief Richard Buzby. “There is funding and grants that we’re missing out on that we could use in this war on heroin, because we don’t have the accurate statistics.”
“The stats right now are flawed. We’re asking for the total of all overdoses, not just fatal. Just because someone’s life was saved on this occasion doesn’t mean they won’t become a fatality statistic next time,” Buzby said.
By tracking drug use and overdose statistics, counties will have a better idea of at-risk individuals and how to keep more overdoses from happening.