A new initiative that offers assistance to substance abusers in the moments after they have been revived from an overdose has resulted in dozens of Burlington County residents being connected to addiction treatment services under a grant-funded program dubbed Operation Helping Hand, Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina announced today.
“Our Office has made it a top priority to combat the drug use epidemic that is taking so many lives – and in particular, so many young lives – in our county,” Prosecutor Coffina said. “We have approached this unprecedented problem with a three-pronged attack that includes education, vigorous enforcement and expanded access to treatment. Operation Helping Hand enhances our ability to offer assistance immediately to those who are willing to accept it and take that first step toward recovery.”
Operation Helping Hand is run by the Prosecutor’s Office in partnership with City of Angels, a non-profit recovery advocacy organization based in Mercer County. It is funded through a $58,824 grant from the United States Department of Health and Human Services that is administered by the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General. The operation is expected to run through August.
The initiative kicked off in February with an effort to contact individuals who have been revived with Narcan on more than one occasion and encourage them to seek treatment.
Throughout May, the focus of the program has been to attempt to immediately reach every individual in the county who is revived with Narcan with the offer of substance abuse treatment.
Whenever a non-fatal overdose has occurred this month, a member of the Prosecutor’s Office has contacted a City of Angels recovery coach. Representatives from both organizations then travel to the location where the overdose occurred, or to a medical facility if the individual has been transported. Once the person has been stabilized, the recovery coach – typically a person in long – term recovery themselves, meets with the person to offer assistance and discuss treatment options.
“City of Angels is grateful to be able to partner with the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office through our recovery coaches,” said COA Chairman Kevin Meara. “People in the know have said law enforcement doesn’t have a place in the challenge of fighting an opioid epidemic. Well, they need to realize that law enforcement initiatives such as Operation Helping Hand will save lives, and for that we are grateful to be able to contribute to this initiative.”
Since May 1, Burlington County has experienced 63 overdoses, seven of which were fatal. Narcan was successfully administered on 32 occasions. In other instances, the individuals who overdosed recovered without the use of Narcan. Of the 46 people who were reached by recovery coaches and offered assistance, all but seven indicated they would accept help, and 11 have already begun treatment.
“We are very encouraged by these results,” Prosecutor Coffina said. “There is no magic formula for recovery – for some people, a brush with death is the jolt they need to seek treatment right away, while others need more time to come around. The City of Angels recovery coaches have done an outstanding job connecting with people in need at all hours of the day and night, and providing them reassurance that they are not alone, and that help is available when they are ready. We will continue to assist the people with whom we have already connected through the end of the grant period, and are exploring other funding opportunities to continue this promising approach to helping those struggling with addiction.”
Operation Helping Hand was pioneered in Bergen County and involved law enforcement officers arresting users purchasing heroin and other narcotics at open-air drug markets. When the users were brought to the police station or prosecutor’s office for processing on narcotics possession charges, recovery specialists and other healthcare partners were waiting to connect them with treatment and recovery services.
Under the Bergen County model, the charges were not dropped if the user accepted help. However, the Operation Helping Hand grant program allows for each Prosecutor’s Office to adjust the approach as long as the program involves coordination and collaboration between law enforcement officers, recovery specialists, and mental health professionals to connect those who are struggling with addiction to treatment and recovery support services. Charges are not filed under the BCPO’s adaptation of Operation Helping Hand.
“The ‘Narcan-Plus’ model we are using better suits the drug landscape of Burlington County, which does not have a traditional ‘open air drug market,’ but has suffered staggering losses from fatal overdoses over the past four years,” Prosecutor Coffina said. “It is undeniable that we cannot arrest our way out of this problem. We have to keep trying new ways to reach people who are struggling with addiction. These deaths are tragic, and they are preventable. We must remain hopeful that we will conquer this scourge.”
Operation Helping Hand is one of three BCPO initiatives aimed at combatting the opioid epidemic.
Operation Safe Overnight, which began in November, focuses on saving lives and increasing enforcement activity at hotels and motels that have experienced overdoses and drug-related criminal activity. Through this program, with the support of Virtua Health, the BCPO has provided Narcan to county hotels and has also trained hotel employees how to use it to reverse an overdose and save a person’s life.
Straight … to Treatment is a program that allows people to walk off the street and into police stations in three municipalities to seek treatment for drug addiction, regardless of whether they are insured or live in Burlington County.
The Straight … to Treatment program was introduced in Evesham Township early last year and expanded to Pemberton Township in September and to the City of Burlington last month. To date, more than 150 people have been referred to treatment through the program.
Straight … to Treatment Hours of Operation
Evesham Twp. Police Department, 984 Tuckerton Road, Mondays: noon – 7 p.m.
Pemberton Twp. Police Department, 500 Pemberton-Browns Mills Road, Tuesdays: noon – 6 p.m.
City of Burlington Police Department, 525 High Street, Wednesdays and Thursdays: noon – 6 p.m.