Over one week in June, authorities across five counties arrested 177 people on drug charges. It was a grim tally, but no surprise in New Jersey, where opioid addiction rates continue to surge.
But this time it was different. All of those 177 users were immediately offered treatment, authorities said, and more than 80 percent of them took up the offer.
While they still faced criminal charges, 148 defendants were shuttled by police to drug treatment centers or connected to counselors as part of “Operation Helping Hand,” a program created by state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.
Grewal said he decided during his time as Bergen County Prosecutor that he was “no longer going to just sweep (addicts) up and put their pictures in the paper and shame them, that we were no longer going to add to the stigma that’s associated with this disease of addiction.”
Now the attorney general is looking to take the program statewide, partnering with county prosecutors across the state to turn drug busts into chances to connect opioid users with recovery services.