Newswise — Hackensack Meridian Health, New Jersey’s most comprehensive health care network, hosted a symposium to update providers and the community on the network’s strategies to help those suffering from substance use disorders, an event that drew 450 people and featured a compelling personal story of recovery and call to action from former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy.

“We are proud to take a leadership role in battling this scourge that impacts far too many families in our state and nation,’’ said Robert C. Garrett, co-CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health. “We honor former Congressman Patrick Kennedy for his courage, his leadership in reducing stigma and his fight for parity for full funding for mental health and substance use disorders treatment.’’

The event, “Substance Use Disorders in 2017: Tackling the Opioid Epidemic and More,’’ was presented by the Hackensack Meridian Health Department of Psychiatry and sponsored by the Christopher Center for Mental Health and Wellness at the Sheraton Eatontown Hotel.

More than 1,900 people died from opioid overdoses in New Jersey last year and deaths from heroin and fentanyl continued a dramatic rise in the state. The trends in New Jersey mirror that of the country. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced that about 64,000 people had died from drug overdoses in 2016, the majority of which involved opioids.  

“It’s time to end the denial that forces those with mental health conditions and addictions into the shadows, which is fueling the public health crisis of suicides and overdoses,’’ Mr. Kennedy said.

The former Rhode Island Congressman, an international advocate for the treatment of mental health and substance use disorders, founded The Kennedy Forum, which has led the way in developing policy approaches to improving the lives of those struggling with mental illness and addiction.

Hackensack Meridian Health has taken several effective steps to help the community: three hospitals – Ocean Medical Center, Jersey Shore University Medical Center and Bayshore Medical Center - offer peer counseling for patients who have overdosed and are treated in the Emergency Department, part of a state effort to get people into treatment. The network has three board-certified psychiatrists specializing in addiction and a variety of treatment options. Additionally, the network provides Narcan – the heroin antidote – free to first responders to replenish their supplies, said Ramon Solhkhah, M.D. Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Jersey Shore University Medical Center and Founding Chair and Professor of Psychiatry at Seton Hall-Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine.

In New Jersey over the past three years, police and first responders administered Narcan 20,000 times. That translates to 23 people per day.

“Monmouth and Ocean counties accounted for 20 percent of all hospital admissions related to opioid abuse in the state,” Dr. Solhkhah said.

The event Wednesday is part of a substance use disorders lecture series made possible through support from the Christopher Center for Mental Health and Wellness. The Christopher Center will be located in the new HOPE Tower upon its opening in early 2018, and will provide for the coordination of a broad range of primary care, mental health, and substance use disorders services at Jersey Shore University Medical Center. The center will be complemented by an educational series to culminate each year with a symposium dedicated to continuing education and networking in the study and care of patients fighting addictions. The series is made possible by a generous donation from Phil and Marilyn Perricone. Their gift was made in honor and memory of their son Christopher.

“Anyone who has lost someone to addiction knows how truly horrific it is,” said Phil Perricone, who also serves as a trustee on the Jersey Shore University Medical Center Foundation Board. “We are hopeful that the Christopher Center for Mental Health and Wellness and these important symposiums will give individuals battling addictions a fighting chance. We were pleased to see so many health professionals in attendance to help put an end to this deadly disease.”

Hackensack Meridian Health is a leading not-for-profit health care organization that is the most comprehensive and truly integrated health care network in New Jersey, offering a complete range of medical services, innovative research and life-enhancing care. Hackensack Meridian Health comprises 13 hospitals, including two academic medical centers, two children's hospitals and nine community hospitals, physician practices, more than 140 ambulatory care centers, surgery centers, home health services, long-term care and assisted living communities, ambulance services, lifesaving air medical transportation, fitness and wellness centers, rehabilitation centers, and urgent care and after-hours centers. Hackensack Meridian Health has 28,000 team members, more than 6,000 physicians and is a distinguished leader in health care philanthropy, committed to the health and well-being of the communities it serves.

The Network's notable distinctions include having one of only five major academic medical centers in the nation to receive Healthgrades America's 50 Best Hospitals Award for five or more consecutive years, four hospitals among the top 10 in New Jersey, including the No. 1 ranked Hackensack University Medical Center – U.S. News and World Report, more than any other network in the state.


Other honors include consistently achieving Magnet recognition for nursing excellence from the American Nurses Credentialing Center, recipient of the John M. Eisenberg Award for Patient Safety and Quality from The Joint Commission and the National Quality Forum, a six-time recipient of Fortune's "100 Best Companies to Work For," one of the "20 Best Workplaces in Health Care" in the nation, and the number one "Best Place to Work for Women." Hackensack Meridian Health is a member of AllSpire Health Partners, an interstate consortium of leading health systems, to focus on the sharing of best practices in clinical care and achieving efficiencies.


The hospitals of Hackensack Meridian Health include: academic medical centers – Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune; children's hospitals – Joseph M. Sanzari Children's Hospital in Hackensack, K. Hovnanian Children's Hospital in Neptune; community hospitals – Ocean Medical Center in Brick, Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank, Mountainside Medical Center in Montclair, Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen, Raritan Bay Medical Center in Perth Amboy, Southern Ocean Medical Center in Manahawkin, Bayshore Medical Center in Holmdel, Raritan Bay Medical Center in Old Bridge, and Pascack Valley Medical Center in Westwood.