Sept. 23, 2010.
That's the day Blackwood resident Salvatore Marchese was found dead in his mother's car in a parking lot in the shadows of a Camden high-rise located nearby the Ben Franklin Bridge.
Sal had died from an accidental drug overdose. He was just 26 years old.
Rather than running from the anguish caused by her son's untimely death, Patty DiRenzo has joined with the Drug Policy Alliance in dedicating her life to advocating a law she hopes will prevent other New Jersey families from having to endure the "terrible pain" hers has over the past 15 months.
The so-called 911 Good Samaritan Law would provide limited protection to anyone who calls 911 seeking medical help in the event of a drug overdose.
Earlier this month, bills supporting the law were introduced in both houses of the state Legislature for the first time.
'If one family will not have to go through what we're going through ...'
Police do not believe Sal was alone when he overdosed the night of Sept. 22 or early on Sept. 23, DiRenzo said, based on evidence found in and near her car. Nor does it appear his body went unnoticed after he took that fatal dose of heroin.
Investigators told DiRenzo her son was robbed after he overdosed. Other factors, including the windows to DiRenzo's car being down despite it being a rainy night, indicate Sal's life could have been saved.
"I remember that night like it was yesterday. Torrential downpouring that night," DiRenzo said. "All four windows were down. It was raining so hard. But he wasn't wet and the car wasn't wet inside—it just leads me to believe that somebody did all that to make sure somebody saw him inside the car."
DiRenzo is convinced her son would still be alive if the person who was with him when he overdosed, or even someone who perhaps came across him in the hours immediately after he fell unconscious in her car, had called 911 for help.
"If this law was in effect, whoever was with Sal would have done that," she said.
Naloxone is a drug used to counteract life-threatening depression of the central nervous system and respiratory system following an overdose. It can be successfully administered one to three hours after a heroin overdose, DiRenzo said.
The 911 Good Samaritan bill (S-3130), sponsored by Sens. Joseph F. Vitale (D-19, Woodbridge) and Loretta Weinberg (D-37, Teaneck), was introduced in the Senate on Dec. 1 and referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Its Assembly companion (A-4420), sponsored by Assemblymen Angel Fuentes (D-5, Camden) and Upendra J. Chivukula (D-17, Somerset) and Assemblywoman Connie Wagner (D-37, Paramus), was introduced on Dec. 8 and referred to the Assembly Judiciary Committee.
"It's a small step maybe, but guess what? If one life can be saved because of it, that's one life and it's been worth it," DiRenzo said. "If one family will not have to go through what we're going through, it's worth it."
'Just call. Save a life. Nothing is going to happen to you.'
The main idea of the 911 Good Samaritan Law is to remove the fear of arrest that prevents many people from calling 911 to report an overdose.
DiRenzo urges anyone who will listen to her to contact their state legislators—many of whom have heard from the Blackwood woman personally—to ask them to help see this law put into effect.
Some may ask why they should ask their legislators to support passage of the 911 Good Samaritan Law.
"Addiction does not discriminate, so it could be anybody. Anybody could lose a child at any time," she said. "You know what? It's a disease. People need to educate themselves and stop being so ignorant to it, and realize that it truly is a disease. Do you think that my son, when he was growing up, said to himself, 'When I grow up I want to be a junkie and I want to die'?" That's not what Sal wanted to do."
Since 2004, roughly 6,000 people have died from drug overdoses in New Jersey, with more than 700 of those deaths coming in 2009 alone.
With staggering numbers like that, DiRenzo recognizes her advocacy would not end if the bill becomes law.
If the law does win the Legislature's approval and the governor signs off on it, the Blackwood resident vows to see that it is put to good use.
"I'll go to the methadone clinics. I'll go anywhere to post things and tell people that if you're with somebody, please, if they overdose—don't be afraid, you're not going to get in trouble—just call," DiRenzo said. "Save a life. Nothing is going to happen to you."
She could be doing it for one of your loved ones.
She'll definitely be doing it in memory of hers.
"He was such a good person. ... I have to do something for him. I can't go on and let him die in vain," she said.
Gloucester Township's state legislators are Sen. Fred H. Madden Jr. and Assemblymen Paul Moriarty and Domenick DiCicco. Madden, Moriarty and Assemblywoman-elect Gabriela Mosquera can be reached at their Blackwood office at 856-401-3073. DiCicco, who lost his bid for a second Assembly term in the new 3rd Legislative District in November, can be reached at 856-228-0923.