wbgo.org: Some Drug Users Turning To NJ Police For Help With Opioid Problem




Drug users desperate to kick the habit are now turning to some New Jersey police departments for help.

Brick Township police chief James Riccio says about 150 drug users showed up at police stations in Brick and Manchester Township since the Heroin Addiction Response program was launched in January

“These people have reached that bottom I guess and want the help. The first few came in. I guess they tested the waters to see that we were actually telling them the truth. We weren’t trying to set them up. Others have come in, and I guess the word is getting out that we’ll actually get them the help they’re looking for. It’s not a trick.”

Participants don’t need to have insurance coverage. The program is funded with drug forfeiture money.

When they walk in, instead of facing arrest, the chief says there’s a brief assessment.

“We’ll ask them questions about the type of drug and the type of addiction that they’ve had, when they’ve last used, just it will help the accessors better determine what type of treatment they need.”

After that initial process, they’re transported to a treatment facility where a clinician evaluates whether they should have inpatient or outpatient treatment or detox.

Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato

Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato says the perception that police just want to prosecute drug users instead of helping them started to change with the advent of Narcan. When administered quickly it can reverse an overdose from heroin or other opioids. 

“When we brought Narcan here in Ocean County back in 2014 we were the first county to do it I think the image of the police officer just arresting our way out of the problem wasn’t successful for the last 40 years. But just because you administer Narcan doesn’t make you’re going to break the cycle of addition.”

Coronato says so far, about 80 percent of the users who seek help at police stations are sticking with the recovery program. He credits that success to the recovery coaches who follow patients throughout the process.

“Because we have that live human being, that mentoring program, attached to it, I think our rate has changed because if they all of a sudden have some sort of psychological, have a problem along the way, there’s someone else, like a lifeline, that they can reach out to that they can talk to who they can relate to that gets them back on track.”

Brick Township Mayor John Ducey says getting people into treatment benefits the community as well. 

“The users a lot of the times, they’re the ones who are doing some of the petty crimes, opening car doors and stealing the change out of a car and things like that. Now if they’re able to get help and get rehabilitation and become a productive member of society again, it adds to our battle against this unfortunate scourge of heroin.”

The program is being expanded to Stafford Township. 

Similar efforts are underway at police departments in West Orange, Paramus, Mahwah, and Lyndhurst.

Ocean County Prosecutor Coronato says even more towns in the state might want to set up that kind of program, but it’s not easy. “When somebody walks in, they walk into our police station carrying their valises, their suitcase. They’re prepared to do something, and as a result of that, you can’t say come back tomorrow, you can’t say wait six hours, you have to have the available detox beds and the available detox beds so we can handle the volume as it comes in.”

Law enforcement officials say the program is an important component of combatting the opioid epidemic and hope it might help reduce overdose deaths.