HAZLET – On Tuesday, Hazlet Pharmacy was one of 10 sites in Monmouth County where anyone could pick up a free two-pack of naloxone, a drug that can reverse opioid overdoses, just by asking for it.
It was part of a statewide program that supplied 175 pharmacies June 18 with the lifesaving drug Narcan, typically sold for $150.
“We had a very heavy volume of people coming in for it,” said Pharmacist Gerald Jackapino of Hazlet Pharmacy at 2874 Route 35. “We gave out 132 doses. By two o’clock, we were out. We probably could have given out at least 100 more afterwards.”
There were more than 3,000 overdose deaths reported in New Jersey last year, up from 2,700 in 2017. The state launched the giveaway program to try to stop the trend. Another goal was to connect users with opioid addiction treatment services.
According to Hazlet First Aid Chief Steve Schmidt, that’s becoming more of a challenge. Schmidt said he’s been surprised to witness an increasing number of patients, once revived with Narcan, decline transport to the hospital.
“Early on, my dealings with users was that it kind of ‘woke them up’ from a near death experience,” said Schmidt. “Now, it’s not as much. They don’t want to go to the hospital and don’t want the help. We may wind up with more deaths because of that.”
The danger, Schmidt says, is that the antidote only lasts for a certain amount of time and can possibly wear off, leaving the patient in distress. If patients agree to go to Bayshore Medical Center in Holmdel, they can get the medical treatment they need and the opportunity to meet with a recovery coach paid for by a state grant, and provided through RWJBarnabas Health Institute for Prevention.
On Tuesday, the giveaway day, Jackapino met individually with each person who came to his long established, family-owned store. “It was pretty sobering. It was a lot of counseling,” he said on Thursday, his voice still hoarse from all the talking. There was also a lot of listening. “I had users. I had loved ones. I had nurses.” One person said he was a landlord and was rattled by the experience of encountering an addict in distress in one of his apartments. He thought it best he should carry naloxone in case that happened again.
No names were taken, and no prescription was necessary to obtain the drug.
“My hope is this will lead to more people having protection from overdoses,” said Jackapino. “My fear is that it’s a safety net for people abusing medications.”
In Monmouth County, in addition to Hazlet, the state Dept. of Human Services distributed naloxone at pharmacies located in Atlantic Highlands, Belmar, Manasquan, Marlboro, Matawan, Oakhurst, Sea Girt and two in Neptune.
The state Dept. of Human Services asked Board of Pharmacy to choose distribution pharmacies by reported prevalence of use and overdoses “loosely by area” and not necessarily by town, said spokeswoman Ellen Lovejoy. The state will be monitoring the program’s effectiveness. “We’ll be looking at whatever data we collect from it,” she said
Hazlet Pharmacy has a written standing order for Narcan, which means the pharmacy is approved by the state to dispense the drug without a prescription.