RUMSON: APPARENT OD SPARKS LEGAL ACTION

By JOHN T. WARD

HOT-TOPIC_02Rumson officials have launched an effort to evict the residents of an addiction-recovery house following what Mayor John Ekdahl called an apparent drug overdose there early Tuesday morning.

Ekdahl said the town filed suit in Superior Court in Freehold Tuesday afternoon asking for an order that Oxford House residents, at 61 South Ward Avenue, clear out immediately, and that Oxford be barred from using it as a home for drug addicts and alcoholics.

The action follows the overdose death of an Oxford House resident on October 13 and a medical emergency involving another resident shortly before dawn on Tuesday.

Police Chief Scott Paterson said Tuesday that he had no detailed information on the nature of the emergency, other than that a person in the house had been reported unresponsive at around 5:30 a.m., and that, “when the person left, he was alive and being treated by paramedics.”

Ekdahl, however, said paramedics found the victim “unconscious and showing signs of I guess you would say an overdose – rigid and shaking.” He said the male victim, who has not been publicly identified, was given an immediate injection of Narcan, a drug used to counter the effects of opiates, and was hospitalized. Ekdahl said he did not know where, or the victim’s current condition.

Except in the case of a death, no toxicology or other health information would be available to the borough, he said.

George Kent, Oxford House manager for the region that includes Rumson, told redbankgreen Wednesday he could not comment on the Ekdahl’s characterization of the incident as an apparent overdose because he did not have full information on what happened.

“I don’t know enough to comment on it,” he said. “The police know more about it than I do.”

Ekdahl said he learned from Paterson, who happened to be at his desk when the emergency call went out and responded to the scene along with paramedics, that there was a woman present in the house, and that no Oxford supervisory personnel were there.

The apparent absence of the proctor, Michael LaVecchia was an issue that borough officials believe gives the town legal standing to sue for eviction, Ekdahl said. Though Oxford Houses for male addicts do not require the presence of a proctor, officials of the nonprofit organization that sponsors the house had agreed with town officials that LaVecchia would reside there, “in their words, ‘until things calmed down,’” at the house, Ekdahl said.

Three weeks ago, in a presentation to West Park neighbors held at a church a block away from the house, Kent reiterated that LaVecchia, an Oxford House outreach coordinator, would live there.

Kent said Wednesday he could not comment on whether LaVecchia was present Tuesday.

The woman seen by Paterson had apparently stayed overnight, contrary to Oxford House’s own rules, which require that guests leave the premises by midnight, Ekdahl said.

LaVecchia’s alleged absence, and the presence of the overnight guest spurred the borough to take legal action, something neighbors have been demanding since the October 13 fatality. Within hours of the incident, borough attorney Marty Barger filed papers in Superior Court in Freehold asking for an order to bar the house from being used by Oxford House, a nonprofit organization that operates recovery houses in some 40 states. The town also asked for a temporary injunction calling for the house to be vacated immediately.

Neither request, however, is expected to get a hearing before the New Year, Ekdahl said. The matter was assigned to Judge Patricia Cleary.

Citing reports of a heroin epidemic in Ocean County – where more than 100 heroin deaths have been reported this year, twice as many as in 2012 – and warnings that the epidemic is spreading, Ekdahl said he sees Oxford House as pursuing “a noble mission.”

But the organization began as a treatment option for alcoholism, and is now facing a drug scourge in which patients relapse into addiction at a rate of four or five times that of alcoholics, Ekdahl said.

With ever cheaper and more potent heroin, “a neighborhood full of kids – I don’t think that’s the right environment” for a treatment residence, he said.

Jim Sylvester, a spokesman for the West Park neighbors, could not be reached for immediate comment.