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Police effort to refer addicts to treatment will lean on community volunteers

June 24, 2016
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Leaders of a New Jersey addiction treatment facility that is partnering with a township police department on an effort to refer opioid addicts to treatment believe the participation of community volunteers will enhance the initiative's success.

Integrity House and the West Orange, N.J., Police Department will see the start of volunteer training in September; no recovery history or past familiarity with addiction topics will be required of those who answer the call to help. “What we generally want is simply people who are willing to serve,” says Marc Ackerman, Integrity House's director of admissions.

Besides the expectation that an individual turning in his/her drugs at the local police station will be more comfortable interacting with a community neighbor than an officer in uniform, “This is a community policing effort,” says Ackerman, “and you cannot get a community policing effort off the ground without the participation of the community.”

West Orange is joining a fast-growing number of municipalities across the country where the local police headquarters is transitioning to a safe zone for illegal drug users who want to receive help. Ackerman explains that the township government adopted local legislative changes allowing for the change in approach, but he adds that state legislation currently under consideration in both chambers in Trenton could ultimately authorize all New Jersey communities to enact a treatment-focused response to the opioid crisis.

The initiative in West Orange is being called Operation HOPE (Heroin and Opiate Prevention Effort). One of the police leaders instrumental in organizing it, Capt. Thomas Montesion, has coined the name “Angels” to refer to the volunteers.

Provider's role

Ackerman says Integrity House, which has treatment operations in Newark, Jersey City and Secaucus, will have two roles in Operation HOPE: training the community volunteers in basic addiction topics and engagement strategies, and facilitating referrals to treatment.

He says referrals could be made to Integrity House or to other programs and facilities, and he adds that Integrity House has no predetermined expectations about how many individuals it will serve directly as a result of the initiative.

Also, all potentially appropriate modalities of treatment, including medication-assisted treatment, will be among the options in the referral process, Ackerman says. “Medication treatment decisions are always made between the doctor and the patient,” he says. “This is not something that's going to be discouraged.”

Each community volunteer possibly will have to commit to being available (i.e., within a 30-minute drive to the police station) for two 12-hour shifts per month, Ackerman anticipates.