My name is Aaron Kucharski and I have been advocating for solutions to various addiction issues for over eight years. In those eight years, I have seen people in recovery, family members, prevention and treatment specialists, and law enforcement work separately to advocate for resources to help those suffering from addiction or working to maintain healthy lives in recovery. I believe in my heart that the overdose prevention effort in New Jersey since the 2012 passage of the Overdose Prevention Act (which encourages people to call 911 safely if witnessing a drug overdose, and also calls for the expansion of the opiate reverser drug NARCAN) brings us all together towards one goal. That goal is to save lives and renew hope for individuals and families.
I am someone who lost my best friend to a heroin overdose in the summer of 2008. He died alone because the person he was using drugs with got scared and ran. No medical emergency assistance was called for to save his life because of the fear of arrest. NJ residents who witness overdoses no longer have to worry about being charged with using drugs or drug paraphernalia, and are now encouraged to call medical assistance because of the passage of the Overdose Prevention Act. This is a common sense law. If I see someone dying, or in need of medical attention the first instinct I have is to call 911 to save their life. This thought should be no different if someone was dying of a heart attack or having a drug overdose. Call for help.
I am a person in recovery from alcohol and drugs since September 6th of 2003, so I am grateful to have a success story and to have overcome my addiction, but the reality is we have lost way too many people (most of them young) to overdose, and I have heard so many stories of heartbreak over the years from family members who have lost loved ones to this illness. It is also a reality that if people were dying at this rate from any other illness, then more people would be outraged that we have not done enough together so far.
I encourage all who read this to advocate for solutions to this epidemic in New Jersey including educating everyone about NARCAN to save lives, and address the stigma that is associated with, in my opinion the largest public health crisis since AIDS. We need to everything we can to make sure NARCAN is in the hands of every available first responder , law enforcement officer, and family member that may be living with an at risk individual.
I applaud the effort of The Overdose Prevention Agency Corporation to raise awareness about the Overdose Prevention Act, and I am forever grateful to the advocates that provided the grassroots support to see its passage in 2012.
Passing the law was part one, educating others is the next step that we can all be a part of.
Thank you TOPAC for the mission you hold and the continued effort to save lives.
Aaron Kucharski is the Advocacy Coordinator for the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence of New Jersey