Matt Albanese works as a recovery specialist with New Bridge. A novel partnership involving dozens of law enforcement agencies and addiction providers in northern New Jersey has been extremely effective at connecting low-level drug offenders with recovery services, according to public officials who hope the pilot program will serve as a model elsewhere in the state and nation.
Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal joined prosecutors and police from five northern counties, healthcare providers, and elected leaders yesterday to announce that 84 percent of people arrested for purchasing or possessing drugs during the five-day initiative agreed to participate in clinical detox treatment programs or other services to address their substance use disorders. While these individuals still face charges, law enforcement officials connect them with recovery specialists and pre-arranged care — and may even provide transportation and other support, in addition to processing their arrest.
The partnership, Operation Helping Hand, builds on a Bergen County program that Grewal launched in 2016 as county prosecutor, and marks the first time so many law enforcement jurisdictions have formed an alliance with recovery professionals. While the formal operation ran from June 11 to June 15 only, participants said the connections they made will enable them to continue to offer options to addicts they arrest in the future.
“We made a decision that we were going to no longer sweep up low-level drug offenders, and put their picture in the paper and shame them. We were no longer going to add to the stigma that is already associated with this disease of addiction,” Grewal said during a press conference at New Bridge Medical Center in Paramus, which hosts the largest detox and treatment program in the state and played a critical role in Operation Helping Hand. “And guess what? That approach worked.”