Source: Press of Atlantic City
After her son was revived from a heroin overdose in Atlantic City, Elisa Ford wrote a letter thanking the police officer who used Narcan on her son that night.
Atlantic City police officer Joe Bereheiko had never gotten any correspondence like that in all the years he had worked as a first responder. He remembers the February 2015 night vividly, as Ford’s son was the first of many people he would go on to save from an overdose.
Ford said she knew little about addiction — it wasn’t until her 19-year-old son pulled up his sleeves and showed her the track marks on his arm that she was thrust into that world. It wasn’t easy finding resources, but Ford eventually got connected with family support groups, 12-step programs, treatment centers and a therapist who specialized in helping families touched by addiction.
Tonia Ahern, Atlantic and Cape May county advocacy team coordinator for the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, said advocates recognized both families and first responders could benefit from programs teaching people about local addiction outreach and support services. The NCADD chapter, in partnership with the Mental Health Association in Atlantic County, plans to host a weekly family support group and first responder training sessions starting this fall. Ahern has a son who has struggled with addiction.
“Police officers have said, ‘I don’t know what to do for families. We see them struggling, but I don’t know what to do for them,’” Ahern said. “Training for police and other departments is to help them get those resources. The new class for families will provide the education piece for people to continue with support.”
Atlantic County has one of the highest number of Narcan deployments in the state, with 242 uses from January through March, according to the state Attorney General’s Office. Neighboring counties Cumberland, Cape May and Ocean all recorded 100 or less.
Officer Bereheiko said several years ago, he wouldn’t have been able to help if a parent or loved one of an overdose victim asked him about what to do. Now, if he comes in contact with family members seeking help, he at least can put them in touch with Jose Gonzalez, the Police Department’s liaison to the migrant and homeless communities, mental health agencies and addiction resources.
The relationships between agencies and first responders give Ford hope more can be done for people like her son: “This is an epidemic. People need to educate themselves. My son is a really cool person, a great person to know. To them, he could have just been another addict, but he’s somebody. He’s my somebody, and I’m so grateful to Officer Bereheiko for saving his life.”