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Bergen Prosecutor: 'Helping Hand' Continues To Reach Opioid Addicts

Already this year, 15 people have died of drug overdoses in Bergen County.
Already this year, 15 people have died of drug overdoses in Bergen County. Photo Credit: COURTESY: Acting Bergen County Prosecutor Dennis Calo

HACKENSACK, N.J. – More than three dozen heroin users arrested in Bergen County over a four-day period got more than summonses to appear in court: They were each also offered the opportunity to connect with a recovering addict who could one day help save his or her life.

Of the 37 users given the chance, 19 of those charged with heroin agreed to work with a “recovery specialist” -- – a recovering addict who has remained clean and knows how to help them find treatment, Acting Bergen County Prosecutor Dennis Calo said.

A dozen of them completed 5-day detox and had long-term treatment options arranged for them by trained clinicians from the Bergen County Division of Addiction Services and recovery specialists from New Bridge Medical Center in Paramus, he said.

Police then brought them for treatment, which was being tracked.

“For those who did not avail themselves of treatment, the recovery specialists remain in touch with many of them and are prepared to offer help whenever they are ready to seek it.”

The charges still stood for all of those arrested. Those who agreed to participate in the program had a better chance of a favorable outcome, however.

Picking up where his predecessor left off, Calo guided the fourth phase of the unique Bergen County program “Operation Helping Hand,” along with BCPO Chief of Detectives Robert Anzilotti, earlier this month.

Under Anzilotti’s direction, a multi-agency task force dedicated itself to finding and arresting Bergen County residents who bought heroin in open-air drug markets in Paterson, Passaic and Newark, then coaxing them into the program.

The reason is simple: Opioid use and overdoses continue to climb everywhere.

A preliminary analysis of overdose data by Calo’s Intel Unit and Narcotics Task Force revealed found that, in Bergen County alone last year, there were:

• 507 total reported overdoses, 416 of which are currently identified as heroin/opioid-related;

• 131 were fatal overdoses; 111 of those were identified as heroin/opioid-related.

325 deployments of Narcan, the overdose reversal drug, by law enforcement officers, saving 245 lives.

(There were many other deployments – by parents, friends, family members, EMTs and in the ER that weren’t included in the analysis, Calo said.)

So far this year, 15 people have died of drug overdoses in Bergen County. Pro-rated through December, the figure comes to 60 deaths -- nearly half as many in the county last year.

Former County Prosecutor Gurbir S. Grewal – now New Jersey’s Attorney General – launched the program last year.

Law enforcement agencies participating in this month’s round of “Operation Helping Hand” included the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office, the Passaic, Morris and Union county prosecutor’s offices, Port Authority police and several local police departments:

  • Bergenfield Police Department;
  • Cliffside Park Police Department;
  • Clifton Police Department;
  • Dumont Police Department;
  • East Rutherford Police Department;
  • Englewood Police Department;
  • Elmwood Park Police Department;
  • Fair Lawn Police Department;
  • Garfield Police Department;
  • Glen Rock Police Department;
  • Hackensack Police Department;
  • Lyndhurst Police Department;
  • Mahwah Police Department;
  • New Milford Police Department;
  • Norwood Police Department;
  • Paramus Police Department;
  • Paterson Police Department;
  • Ridgefield Park Police Department;
  • Saddle River Police Department;
  • Tenafly Police Department;
  • Upper Saddle River Police Department:
  • Westwood Police Department.

Also participating were:

  • recovery specialists from the state Division of Children’s Aid and Family Services;
  • clinicians and specialists from the Bergen County Department of Health Services’ Division of Addiction Services
  • professionals from New Bridge Medical Center.

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