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Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal and Joe Pritchard, CEO of Pinnacle Treatment Centers, release black balloons to commemorate those lost to addiction Ken Serrano, @KenSerranoAPP
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BRICK - If there’s one thing Shereef Elnahal would do to halt the death toll in the opioid epidemic, it would be to expand the use of drugs such as methadone to treat people who are addicted.The Murphy administration is banking on that to cut into the number of fatal overdoses that rose to an all-time high of 3,118 last year and has topped 400 so far this year. And Elnahal, the 33-year-old New Jersey health commissioner, is tasked along with others in the administration to bring down the death count.
On Wednesday, Elnahal attended the formal opening of a Brick substance abuse treatment center, Ocean Monmouth Care, and to mark Black Balloon Day, an event to commemorate those who have died in the wave of opioid overdose deaths. For a video of the Black Balloon Day event, scroll up.Medication Assisted Treatment uses methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone combined with therapy to allow patients to lead a relatively normal life. Methadone is an opioid as well, but it can prevent withdrawal symptoms from cutting out the use of other opioids, without giving the user the euphoric high of most opioids, according to the medical website WebMd.    The Murphy administration is pushing to train more family physicians and other providers to use the drugs. The Department of Human Services has already started training sessions across the state on Medication Assisted Treatment, Elnahal said
Data collection is a piece of Murphy's plan that Elnahal is handling as well as other initiatives such as expanding needle exchange programs.Ocean Monmouth Care is part of Pinnacle Treatment Centers, a private, for-profit company that runs 70 facilities in six states. Pinnacle has seven facilities in New Jersey that serves 4,000 patients and plans to roll out five more soon, said Pinnacle CEO Joe Pritchard.Dr. Christopher Johnston, an addiction expert and chief medical officer for Pinnacle, said there is a 60 percent mortality rate reduction when using Medication Assisted Treatment.MORE Drug cartel in NJ: Sinaloa traffickers now live among us
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But data collection is another critically important piece of the plan, for two reasons: to find out the success rates of places like Pinnacle and to track patients. Pinnacle says 80 percent of its patients have succeeded after one year of treatment, an important milestone in recovery.The data will track opioid users from emergency room to detox to residential treatment to transitional housing to outpatient treatment, picking up things such as failed urine tests or what type of medication they were receiving along the way, Elnahal said.
“If somebody comes into an emergency room (because of an overdose) you’d immediately be able to say, they go to Pinnacle, they get methadone or buprenorphine and I know exactly who to communicate with about their plan of care,” Elnahal said. “You can find out not only where somebody has failed but what their history has been.” MORE Meth Skyrockets in NJ: DEAElnahal acknowledges that it would be near-practically impossible right how for even him, as the chief medical officer in the state, to determine the success rates of facilities or how patients stumbled when they relapsed.Success rates inform the state about how to distribute funding, he said.Elnahal said $5.4 million this fiscal year will go toward developing the state's “data infrastructure.”
“The big thing will be connecting data from actual substance abuse disorder professionals to a single network where they can share data with emergency rooms, hospitals."Clinics and hospitals and others who already keep detailed records will start being connected to the statewide electronic health system this summer, he said. Those who don’t keep those records will start to, he said.It will take at least a year to get all providers online, he said.Ken Serrano: 732-643-4029; kserrano@gannettnj.com

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