County strives to put together an overdose fatality review team

PUBLIC SAFETY. Sussex County may soon have a data review team that will review the personal records of those who died from overdose. The team will assess what services the deceased had received, and will each year generate a report based on the information, in order to work toward best practices.

01 Oct 2019 | 11:51

Efforts are underway to start an Overdose Fatality Review Team (OFRT) in Sussex County. It would consist of a data review team that would review the personal medical records of those who died from opioid overdose, to assess what services the person had received, for example, in order to reduce the number of Sussex County's overdose deaths.

Sussex County Office of Substance Abuse and Alcoholism Services, along with Sussex County Health Officer James McDonald, are working together to form a team to review overdose fatalities in Sussex County, based on success in other regions.

In 2014, Maryland began reviewing data related to opioid deaths. The data centered on family, medical, legal and educational histories of the deceased. The process was modeled after Child Death Review Teams that are already in place in 50 states.

The goal of the Fatal Overdose Review Team is to identify opportunities to improve services for people with addiction in a way that can help reduce risk of overdose and death, and to improve timing of response services and intervention. The Sussex County Office of Substance Abuse and Alcoholism Services, along with Sussex County Health Officer James McJDonald, has been working to lower fatalities within Sussex County.

Overdose Fatality Review Teams already exist in four NJ counties. Ocean County was first, in 2017. State legislature currently is considering a bill that would mandate OFRTs in all of NJ's counties. The US Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) Comprehensive Opiod Abuse Program (COAP) has stepped in to provide training and support for OFRTs in other states and in NJ.

In August, Sussex County Alcohol and Drug Abuse Coordinator Nicholas Loizzi attended the National Forum on Overdose Fatality Review in Washington DC. At the conference, Loizzi heard about the efforts in Maryland, West Virginia, NJ, and Indiana. After learning more about Ocean County's efforts, he presented the idea to Christine Floria, Director of the Community and Youth Services Division and Health Officer James MacDonald.

They agreed, with encouragement from Health and Human Serviecs Administrator Carol Novrit to contact the agencies that comprise the OFRT. The OFRT will consist of members from the criminal justice, health care, medical examiner, behavior health, emergency services, public health, social services, and treatment/prevention communities. Review meetings will take place quarterly. Cases will be recommended by the Medical Examiner's office. The deceased's name will be known to review members, and they will determine what services the deceased had received. Confidentiality agreements will be signed by all review members. And an annual report will be generated. Goal is to start reviewing cases prior to the end of 2019.

For more information about BJA-COAP visit