Injection infections — NJ report addresses ‘preventable’ drug deaths
In 2019 alone, at least 283 people in New Jersey died from infections caused by their injection drug use, according to a report released on Wednesday by New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition.
And over 7,000 individuals were hospitalized for these bacterial or skin infections in the same year.
The report, Preventable Harms: Injection Drug-Use Related Infections in New Jersey, suggests that the money spent caring for these patients is enough to fund life-saving programs in every New Jersey town.
"Individuals are being harmed by the systems that we have in place that do not adequately prevent or then address these infections," said Amesika Nyaku, report author and a trustee with the coalition.
Injection-related hospitalization rates per capita were highest in Atlantic, Camden, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Mercer, Salem, and Warren counties in 2019, according to the report.
"As a medical student, I see far too many people who inject drugs hospitalized with debilitating illnesses that are potentially preventable," said Michael Enich, primary report author and a coalition trustee. "As an outreach volunteer, I hear all the time from people who don't want to go to the hospital because of their poor experiences seeking medical care in the past."
Hospital charges for these cases totaled over $1 billion in 2019, the report finds. According to researchers, that's enough money to fully fund at least two syringe service programs in every municipality in New Jersey.
Currently, seven syringe service programs are running in the Garden State. They offer resources and clean tools to drug users.
Among its list of recommendations in the report, the coalition calls on officials to "fully fund and implement" syringe programs "in all corners of the state."
The coalition would also like to see support of harm reduction services that include safer smoking and safer snorting supplies, in order to reduce the number of injection-related infections, and stronger "harm reduction infrastructure" in hospitals and emergency departments.
"Hospitals should provide connection to syringe service programs and prioritize collaborative care plans to address patient-identified needs and reduce the odds of patient-directed discharges," the report says. "It is critical to increase local substance use treatment collaboration between hospitals and treatment centers for individuals who are seeking supported substance use disorder treatment."