Our research has shown that many people struggling with opioid addiction have frequent contact with both the health care system and the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, those two systems rarely talk to each other, and the cost can be human lives. Last month, we organized a training to bring together the Camden County Police Department (CCPD), our internal data and patient care experts, and providers from Camden’s two licensed Suboxone clinics: Project H.O.P.E., and Cooper Hospital’s Urban Health Institute (UHI).

With opioid addiction and overdose rates rising across the country, low-income communities like Camden are hit particularly hard. Heroin overdose victims have been a special focus of Camden ARISE, our data integration project that combines datasets from public sectors like health care, criminal justice, and housing. In our analysis, we found that heroin overdose victims in Camden are often seen in the hospital or picked up by the police just weeks before a heroin overdose lands them in the hospital again.

In light of these findings, we’re working hard to increase collaboration between law enforcement and health care providers to avoid overdose deaths and make sure that the city’s most vulnerable are getting the care they need.

CCPD Chief Scott Thompson and 26 of his officers attended the training, eager to learn how to increase access to effective, evidence-based services and treatment for people with addictions. One relatively new evidence-based treatment for people with opioid addiction is Suboxone.

Suboxone (buprenorphine and naloxone) is a type of of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for people dependent on opioids such as OxyContin or heroin. Like methadone, the most commonly used MAT, Suboxone is itself an opioid, but its opioid effects are much weaker than those of heroin and methadone. For people with opioid dependence, Suboxone prevents the symptoms of opioid withdrawal, but does not produce a “high.” Opioid-dependent people taking Suboxone report feeling normal and productive, neither high nor withdrawing.

At the training, Dr. Kaitlan Baston, a Family Practitioner and Addictions Specialist at UHI, provided officers with detailed information about how Suboxone works compared to other treatment approaches and discussed evidence of its effectiveness. She and her colleague Kerianne Guth shared information about treatment services that UHI is developing. Brian Colangelo shared information about the programs and Suboxone treatment services at Project H.O.P.E., where he is a social worker. Kelly Craig, Senior Director of Population Health Initiatives at the Camden Coalition, discussed our approach to working with patients with complex social and medical issues, many of whom struggle with substance abuse.

Dr. Corey Waller is a national expert in addiction, pain, and emergency medicine and was recently hired as the Camden Coalition’s Senior Medical Director for Education and Policy. He was heartened by the dialogue opening up between the health care and criminal justice sectors in Camden. “Given that the disease of addiction transcends all layers of our society, education to the general public and to the police should be seen as a requirement and not as an option,” he said. “We should consider this step one in many to come.”

Stay Informed

Join our mailing list to get the latest updates sent right to your inbox from the Camden Coalition.

Sign Up