OCEAN COUNTY — Officials in one part of New Jersey are starting a new program to send those addicted to substance abuse to rehab, not jail.

According to Ocean County Prosecutor Joe Coronato, the Heron Addition Response program will allow substance abusers to turn themselves and their drugs in at police headquarters — without risking charges. Instead, they'll be sent to either Preferred Behavioral Health in Lakewood or Integrity House in Toms River for treatment, at no cost.

“If you do this you’re not going to be charged, you’re going to be diverted from the criminal justice system,” he said.

Drug users can come to Manchester Township police on Wednesdays and Brick Township on Thursdays to be entered into the program.

Coronato stressed to break the cycle of addiction, instead of locking up users, “what you really need to do is address the problem — what law enforcement needs to do is go after the predators, the drug dealers, the ones that are preying on these individuals, and the system really can’t handle incarcerating all of the people addicted to illegal substances.”

He said those who turn themselves in won’t be charged with crimes because “you’re just admitting you have a problem and that you’re seeking help, and we’re going to try to help you get that help.

If drug users don’t turn themselves in, there’s another way they can get help.

Coronato said if a police officer comes across someone who appears to have a drug problem in either Brink or Manchester, “and if that officer discusses with that person the fact that they need help, and that person is willing to seek the help, then they’re brought in and we’ll automatically put them into the program."

The prosecutor said if a person wants help, "shame on us if they have to be charged or they have to overdose before we give them help"

"I want to make it available for people who really want to help themselves, who say that they want help," he said.

Preferred Behavioral Health and Integrity House will be funding the program, but the prosecutor's office may use forfeiture money for minor costs or incidentals.

Coronato stressed this is a pilot program and there may be some kinks that have to be worked out — but the plan is to expand it.

“If the model is successful, I don’t see any reason why other counties won’t adopt what we’re doing here. The police chiefs here within my county all would like to have a program similar to this, but this is like any other program," he said. "I want to crawl before I walk.”

After Coronato announced the HARP program was moving forward, Manchester Police Chief Lisa Parker issued the following statement:

The fight against opiate addiction must be multi-faceted, which is why this partnership is such a critical step towards the missing intervention component.

Prevention, Intervention and Enforcement are all equally necessary," the statement continued" The Manchester Township Police Department is committed to utilizing all three essential components to combat this epidemic. Our Department was the first in the State to develop a high school opiate awareness program, appropriately named #NotEvenOnce, which was rolled out this year for all high school seniors in Manchester Township. Our goal is to share this program with every Police Department in the State of New Jersey. Additionally, in July of 2014, a specialized unit, the Narcotics Enforcement Team, hit the streets and has been very busy with drug arrests.

The HARP program will provide treatment for those in need regardless of their insurance coverage or ability to pay. The intervention component that HARP provides is a road less traveled by Law Enforcement, but at this point we must employ all of our resources to combat this epidemic. Each of these components — Prevention, Intervention and Enforcement — alone will not solve the problem, but collectively, and with the assistance of other police departments joining in with this three-pronged approach, we can make a difference.

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