HOWELL – Local government officials appear to be on a very important mission – to protect the wellbeing of residents and potentially save lives.
One initiative seems to directly correlate to a national sporting event that potentially grabbed even more attention than the recent Super Bowl. Fans watched in horror as Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin went into full cardiac arrest during a game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The horrific event came with a happy ending as quick actions resulted in saving Hamlin’s life. One of the team’s trainers immediately began CPR and used an AED (automatic external defibrillator) device to restore Hamlin’s heart to normal rhythm.
Howell Township Mayor Theresa Berger said at the January 17th town council meeting that she would like to see AEDs available in more public places throughout the municipality. She pointed out that Freehold Township has them accessible in their parks and would like them available locally as well.
Township Manager Joseph Clark reported at the most recent council meeting that he has already received quotes for the devices and their purchase is imminent.
“We will probably put them in our more active parks,” said Clark. “Soldier Memorial, Oak Glen and Deerwood.”
One of the challenges will be determining how to keep the AEDs safe, which may mean keeping them in an alarmed cabinet.
Other township initiatives focus on different aspects of community wellbeing. Funds secured as a result of a state opioid settlement agreement have resulted in additions to Howell’s focus on substance abuse prevention and mental health.
Howell joined in New Jersey’s Opioid Settlement Agreement in 2020, which holds certain pharmaceutical supply chain participants accountable for their part in the opioid epidemic.
Municipal Alliance Coordinator Christa Riddle said Howell has received a total of $72,754 to date. The main settlement agreement calls for 18 years of payment going forward. Janssen Pharmaceuticals, which is part of Johnson & Johnson, has agreed to make eleven years of payment. Other settlement agreements include those made with CVS and Walgreens pharmacies, with other parties potentially adding to the dollars given to each town.
“We have no idea what our full total will be as it changes as more lawsuits settle,” said Riddle. “The monies are kept in a grant account and all spending is tracked.”
Howell’s strategic plans for the funds are to ensure they provide a benefit to all populations impacted by opioid misuse and abuse. Prevention programs target children as young as preschool and also focus on adults of all ages, including seniors.
While some programs are done in partnership with the local schools and police department, others involve community organizations.
The opioid settlement allotment has already funded the installation of five additional Narcan kits and seven additional vape detectors already wired for Howell High School.
An alert will go off in the school’s administrative offices when someone is vaping or tampering with the vape detector. The School Resource Officers (SROs) all have Narcan with belt holders purchased with the settlement funds. This allows an immediate response should someone overdose while at school.
Narcan kits will be placed at Town Hall as well and staff trained in the event of an emergency situation. The Alliance is also discussing the installation of vape detectors and access to Narcan in schools other than the high school.
“Our youth today are facing unprecedented substance use and mental health challenges,” Riddle said. “This is happening at younger and younger ages.”
Riddle provided some examples, including drug cartels using social media to sell drugs. Most recently, the DEA has shared information with federal lawmakers about the use of Snapchat to target children.
“They pose as other youth selling prescription drugs,” shared Riddle. “In fact, they’re actually fake pressed pills, many of which are laced with fentanyl.”
The risks of fentanyl overdose are monumental as one father learned when he went to wake up his son who appeared to have fallen asleep while studying at his desk. The sad news is that the 17-year-old would never wake up again. He died from a fentanyl overdose from pills he learned about through Snapchat.
Medical professionals are seeing an increase in children as young as 10 overdosing on over the counter medicines such as Tylenol and Advil. Marijuana edibles have also led to a severe increase in calls to poison centers for abuse and misuse of cannabis products in Americans ages 6-18.
“It’s gone from 510 cases in 2000 to 1761 cases in 2020,” Riddle said. “We’re at a higher number, I’m sure now.”
According to Riddle, students are bringing marijuana products to school and consuming it, some of which comes with extremely high potency. The frequency of use cannot only lead to cannabis use disorder, but also cannabis induced psychosis – especially in young people.
Substance abuse isn’t just one of the concerns facing young people. The suicide death of a teenage girl in Ocean County hit entirely too close home and represents a frightening reality.
“The teen female suicide rate as well is dropping to lower ages,” Riddle said. “One in three high school girls are saying they have considered suicide. And 22 percent of highschoolers surveyed are saying they have seriously considered suicide.”
Discussions are also underway concerning the purchase of HIBster, a software program that deals with incident management and student assistance. Among other things, the program is considered invaluable when it comes to tracking patterns and dealing with issues such as bullying.
Early intervention is seen as most effective in dealing with student issues. Riddle said that partnering with the Howell Police Department is also one of the important initiatives as far as crisis intervention.
A 24 hour service already exists as far as crisis intervention for overdoses. This may be expanded to include DUIs, mental health crisis calls and domestic violence.
“This would give people support right at the scene so they have a warm handoff to support and recovery resources,” said Riddle. “We find that to be very effective and will come with data and allow us to report back on how it’s working.”
Other programs set up by the Municipal Alliance include presentations to parents, students and coaches regarding the dangers of prescription drugs.
The creation of a mini mental health awareness program in Howell offers residents insight into critical issues that are not necessarily drug-related.
“We’re looking to come up with our own mental health program to educate first responders, police, educators and community members of mental health and substance abuse stigma,” shared Riddle. “We plan to go through warning signs, support resources, and show how to be supportive to someone and employ active listening.”