Overdose Fatality Review Team Launched in Morris County

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MORRIS COUNTY — An Overdose Fatality Review Team (OFRT) is being launched in Morris County through a partnership between Prevention is Key (PIK) and the Morris County Division of Public Health to combat the rise in overdose deaths.

The OFRT has enlisted the support of multiple agencies and organizations to begin analyzing data, identifying regional trends, and evaluating strategies to address opioid overdose deaths in Morris County. The initiative is being funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the New Jersey Department of Health under a successful model program developed in Maryland.

OFRTs consist of local, multi-agency, multi-disciplinary teams of professionals in a position to conduct comprehensive, yet confidential reviews of overdose deaths to ultimately improve response, prevention, treatment and public awareness services.  By fully understanding more about overdose deaths in the county, local health officials can more effectively direct policies, practices, and partnerships to prevent future overdoses and allocate prevention resources and services where they are most effective.

“The idea of gathering a group of individuals from diverse professions to share their perspectives and experiences, and to learn from one another in order to make a recommendation on how to prevent future overdose deaths feels like a massive step in the right direction, and I’m happy to be part of that process,” said Samantha Neville of PIK, who will serve as the coordinator of the Morris County OFRT.

“Opioid overdose fatalities continue to be a serious public health crisis affecting individuals and families from all walks of life. The Morris County OFRT will play a critical and integral role in the development of critical interventions for the prevention of opioid misuse and fatalities,” said Morris County Health Officer Carlos Perez, Jr. Ph.D.

In offering $100,000 grants to cities and counties throughout New Jersey last year, the NJDOH explained that the review teams can uncover the individual and population factors and characteristics of potential overdose victims. Knowing the who, what, when, where, and how of fatal overdoses provides a better sense of the strategies and coordination needed to prevent future overdoses and results in the better allocation of overdose prevention resources and services, according to the NJDOH.

“The Department recognizes the importance of local solutions to bring about a larger change that is needed to address the overdose crisis,” said New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli when the grant opportunity was rolled out last year. “The power of Overdose Fatality Review Teams is that they combine robust data with local partnerships, which is the perfect public health recipe for success. These teams will bring about innovation to help end the overdose epidemic.”

According to the NJDOH, the Maryland project improved the quality of referral systems, enhanced outreach to families to provide overdose prevention and treatment services by local health departments and other providers; identified new audiences for its naloxone training, and amplified overdose awareness.

The NJDOH summarized the responsibilities of all OFRTs in the state:

  • Conduct multi-agency/multi-disciplinary reviews of all available information on an individual who dies from an overdose; promote cooperation and coordination across agencies involved in overdose investigations;
  • Establish policies and procedures for pooling all available information on overdose deaths from local, county, and state government agencies, law enforcement, private entities that maintain privacy and confidentiality and comply with all applicable State and Federal privacy and confidentiality legal requirements;
  • Identify points of contact between deceased individuals and healthcare, social services, criminal justice, and other systems involved;
  • Identify the risk factors that put individuals at risk for drug overdose within their jurisdiction; and
  • Recommend how to improve local partnerships, policies, and practices to prevent overdose deaths.

Morris County and Prevention is Key are pursuing partnerships with the following agencies and organizations to form an Overdose Fatality Review Team.  Partners may include, but are not limited to:

The Municipal Alliances network in Morris County
Morris County Stigma-Free Communities Initiative
Morris County Mental Health Addictions Services Advisory Board
Catholic Charities
Hope House
Daytop New Jersey
Grace Counseling Center
Morris County Aftercare Center
New Bridge Services.
Hope One
Various public schools
Morris County Department of Human Services
Morris County Prosecutor’s Office
Morris County Sheriff’s Office and Correctional Facility
Morris County Emergency Medical Services
Morris County Medical Examiner
Atlantic Health System
Saint Clare’s Health System