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Bergen Prosecutor Boosts Heroin Fight With Walk-In Police Help

Arrests were made in the marked towns, Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir S. Grewal (inset) said.
Arrests were made in the marked towns, Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir S. Grewal (inset) said. Photo Credit: MAP: Courtesy BCPO; Daily Voice photo

HACKENSACK, N.J. – Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir S. Grewal on Monday announced the launch of a pilot program in which participating municipal police departments in the county will establish walk-in hours one day per week staffed by a law enforcement officer and a clinician.

It begins with walk-in operations at the Lyndhurst, Mahwah and Paramus police departments.

“Those seeking help, who [are carrying] a personal-use quantity of narcotics or drug paraphernalia will not be charged” for having the drugs, the prosecutor said.

The “Heroin Addiction Recovery Team” (HART) program comes on the heels of "Operation Helping Hand 2":

Over five days last week, officers from 16 law enforcement agencies rounded up 43 people, mostly on heroin possession charges, who were offered an opportunity to speak with a “recovery specialist” – a recovering addict trained to help them find treatment, Grewal said.

Fifteen of those arrested agreed to treatment, he said.

“This offer of help was in addition to, not in lieu of, any criminal charges,” said the prosecutor, who has made tackling the opioid crisis a cornerstone of his tenure.

“If the individual requested help, then a trained clinician from the Bergen County Division of Addiction Services assessed him/her to determine the appropriate level of care and treatment needed,” he said.

“The clinicians, working closely with the recovery specialists and representatives from the Bergen Regional Medical Center, then made arrangements for treatment,” Grewal said, “and law enforcement transported the individual to treatment.”

The 15 who accepted the offer “are now in 5-day detox programs, largely at Bergen Regional Medical Center,” the prosecutor said. “And as they complete detox, longer-term treatment options are being lined up for them afterwards and their progress is being tracked by the recovery Specialists.

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

The initiative led by Grewal’s office was in coordination with Bergen County Executive James J. Tedesco, III and Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino, and involved professionals from Children’s Aid and Family Services, the county Division of Addiction Services and BRMC.

The multi-jurisdictional task force that made the arrests included the sheriff’s office, Port Authority police and police from Bergenfield, Cliffside Park, Dumont, Elmwood Park, Englewood, Fort Lee, Lyndhurst, Mahwah, New Milford, Paramus, River Edge, Saddle River, Upper Saddle River and Tenafly.

The operation was sparked, in part, by an increase in drug overdoses in Bergen County in recent years, Grewal said.

The prosecutor cited:

• 308 total reported overdoses, 246 of which are currently identified as heroin/opioid-related;

• 87 fatal overdoses; 70 of those identified as heroin/opioid-related;

• 207 deployments of Narcan, the overdose reversal drug, by law enforcement officers, which saved 180 (Several ther deployments – by parents, friends, family members, EMTs and in the ER – weren’t counted).

“In fighting the heroin and opioid epidemic in Bergen County, our typical law enforcement response has not been working,” Grewal said.

“This epidemic, instead, requires a collaborative response – one that brings together law enforcement, county government, health care professionals, counselors and recovery specialists – under one roof,” he said.

“By any measure, this initiative was a success: 15 people availed themselves to treatment and took the first steps to free themselves from that all too familiar cycle of arrest, overdose, Narcan save, and overdose fatality,” the prosecutor added. “We will do everything possible to ensure that they seek and receive long term treatment.”

Grewal also emphasized that “because the individuals arrested during the course of this initiative are suffering, in most cases seriously, from the disease of addiction, their names and photos are not being released publicly by the BCPO.”

Addressing the HART pilot program, Grewal said he envisions adding other departments to make resources available in all parts of the county.

“In the weeks to come, each agency will be announcing its HART day and hours, as well as information concerning the recovery care providers with whom they are partnering,” he said.

He also singled out Joseph Masciandaro, the President and Chief Executive Officer of CarePlus New Jersey, and Paramus Police Chief Kenneth Ehrenberg “for leading the efforts to implement the HART program in Bergen County.”

He also thanked Mahwah Police Chief James Batelli and Lyndhurst Police Chief James O’Connor for their work.

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