Cape May County Sees 25 Percent Drop in Drug Overdoses

Drug overdoses in Cape May County dropped from 47 percent in the first quarter of 2014 to 21 percent in 2016.

By Briana Vannozzi

Every Thursday night in Middle Township Cape May, anywhere from a dozen to nearly 100 people show up at the Lighthouse Church. They come for help with addiction and substance abuse — and for a lifeline.

“I started coming to the meetings and they made me feel like there was hope, because at the time I pretty much accepted that was it,” said addiction patient Al Narciso.

Christians United for Recovery, or CURE, is a ministry born a little over two years ago. It’s staffed solely by volunteers and it’s one reason the county has seen a 25 percent drop in drug overdoses so far this year.

“The needs were very pressing here and we grew to a point of desperation needing to do something and quite frankly the heroin addiction issues began to really come home,” said Charlie Harrah, associate pastor at Lighthouse Church.

Harrah says it works, in part, because recovery classes are held for people with all types and levels of addiction. So far they’ve helped 1,400 people get treatment with substance abuse.

“We’ve also got the support groups for the family. We found that if we send the addict or the person in need of recovery off and get help but they come back to a family that’s really dysfunctional and only can connect with that patient, or that recovering addict’s addiction. Suddenly you’ve got that dry drunjk syndrome they’ve never relearned, so we have to get in and work with the codependent issues,” he said.

“They’re open and honest, they reach out to you. They don’t make you feel alone,” said addiction patient Nicole Lomonoco.

Drug overdoses in Cape May County dropped from 47 in the first quarter of 2014 to just 21 for the same period this year. It’s been a community effort between faith-based groups like CURE, law enforcement, schools and hospitals. In order to get addicts into these recovery programs, volunteers like Sueanne Agger and other street teams are actively seeking out those in need.

“We come into Cape Regional Hospital and we talk to patients and try to motivate them to get into treatment. We get a referral from the doctors or the nurses in the ER that someone has presented either with a substance use disorder or alcohol,” she said.

Her group is called ASAP, or Advocating Substance Abuse Programs. They work hand in hand with the hospital and church. Starting this summer, they’ll form a partnership with law enforcement to accompany officers on overdose calls.

“They come in and they feel that they’re so broken and that they’ve been living this life and you give them some motivation and give them the hope that they can have a better life,” Agger said.

In part two of this story, we’ll take a look at the intervention from bedside in the ER to a seat at the recovery table.