TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and the Office of the New Jersey Coordinator for Addiction Responses and Enforcement Strategies (“NJ CARES”) today announced that $2.2 million in state funds will be dedicated to establishing and expanding county-based diversion programs in which law enforcement officers proactively connect individuals suffering from opioid addiction with treatment and/or recovery support services.
Drawn from the $100 million that the Murphy Administration committed to combatting the opioid epidemic in FY2019, the funding will facilitate the statewide expansion of the “Operation Helping Hand” law enforcement diversion program.
“Law enforcement diversion programs are an important part of the State’s addiction response to the opioid addiction epidemic,” said Governor Phil Murphy. “With this funding for Operation Helping Hand we are doubling down on a program that has demonstrated positive results across the state.”
The Operation Helping Hand model, which has been deployed in 18 counties to date, has been credited with linking hundreds of individuals with services to address their drug addiction.
“Our goal is to expand Operation Helping Hand into all 21 counties to promote the kind of community partnerships that turn law enforcement encounters into an opportunity for individuals to turn their lives around,” said Attorney General Grewal. “Operation Helping Hand represents a different kind of policing, where the goal is not to rack up arrests but to offer individuals using illicit drugs the help they need to break the cycle of addiction.”
Attorney General Grewal developed Operation Helping Hand as a new way to combat opioid addiction in Bergen County while serving as the County Prosecutor in 2016. At that time, the Operation Helping Hand strategy began with law enforcement officers arresting users purchasing heroin – or, in some cases, 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. The charges were not dropped if the user accepted help, but every effort was made to place him or her on the path to recovery. Operation Helping Hand has been steadily expanding to more counties since 2018 as part of Governor Murphy and Attorney General Grewal’s all-hands-on-deck strategy for combatting the opioid epidemic.
In June 2018, a week-long Operation Helping Hand initiative involving law enforcement, county government, and addiction service agencies in Bergen, Morris, Passaic, Sussex, and Union counties demonstrated the program’s success when more than 150 individuals encountered by law enforcement officers chose to pursue treatment – meaning in-patient detox, or in-patient treatment, or intensive outpatient treatment, or medically assisted treatment, or a combination thereof – or recovery support services.
Pursuing Attorney General Grewal’s mission to expand the Operation Helping Hand program throughout the state, last fall NJ CARES used $1 million in federal funds, which were subgranted from the NJ Department of Health, to provide grants to County Prosecutors’ Offices to establish or expand programs modeled on Operation Helping Hand.
Counties are given flexibility to adapt the Operation Helping Hand strategy to meet local needs, as long as their programs rely on relationships with community healthcare partners and incorporate proactive outreach by law enforcement officers to serve as a point of entry for treatment and/or recovery support services.
The $1 million in federal funding announced last fall is expected to pay for programs in seventeen counties – Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Salem, Sussex, Union, and Warren counties –through August. The new funding being announced today will allow the existing programs to continue and grow, while giving the remaining counties the opportunity to participate.
Early feedback on the new Operation Helping Hand programs has been positive.
Camden County used the grant funding to launch a traditional Operation Helping Hand program, the county’s first. During the weeklong operation, 126 individuals were arrested for minor drug related offenses and those with substance use disorders were offered a variety of treatment programs and recovery support services. Of the 126 individuals that law enforcement made contact with, 17 entered into inpatient detox treatment, 25 entered intensive outpatient or community-based support program, and 7 entered into medically assisted treatment.
Burlington County used its funding to launch a non-arrest outreach program targeting individuals who have been revived by or interacted with police during calls for emergency services for overdoses. Through the program, 46 overdose survivors have been offered addiction recovery services. All but seven of them indicated they would accept the offer, and 11 have already begun treatment, the county has reported.
In Union County, where the grant money was used to fund a traditional Operation Helping Hand for one week in May, approximately 88 percent of the 148 people contacted through the program agreed to engage in some form of rehabilitative assistance: Of the individuals who accepted help, 56 were entered into inpatient detox treatment, 43 entered intensive outpatient or community-based support program, and 29 entered medically assisted treatment. Included in those accepting help were 25 “walk-ins,” drug users who were not arrested but had heard about the program through word of mouth and approached law enforcement for recovery assistance.
“We believe that counties who have seen first-hand the successes of the Operation Helping Hand model will be eager to apply for additional funding to expand them and keep them running for another year,” said Sharon M. Joyce, Director of NJ CARES. “We intend to reach out to work counties that didn’t apply for the last round of funding and discuss ways the funding could be used to address the problem of drug addiction in their communities.”
A Notice of Availability of Funds posted last week encourages counties that already have participated in Operation Helping Hand to increase the frequency of these operations, incorporate and improve on their existing model, and share data to reduce the number of overdose-related deaths.
Under the program, $2.1 million of the state funding will be disbursed to counties and the remainder will be used to administer the program through NJ CARES. The base funding allocation for each county prosecutor’s office is $100,000. If not all counties participate, the remainder of the $2.1 million will be divided among participating counties using a formula determined by NJ CARES.
The funding is for a 12-month period from September 1, 2019 through August 31, 2020.
Similar to the current Operation Helping Hand grant, under the grant program rules, counties will be permitted to modify the Operation Helping Hand model, as long as the adapted programs use proactive engagement by law enforcement officers as the point of entry for treatment and/or recovery support services and build relationships with community healthcare partners.