MONROE (Middlesex) — An overwhelming majority of individuals suffering from substance abuse disorders have not had a run-in with the law — yet.

To keep addicts from ever entering a courtroom, and instead entering the treatment they need to get well, advocates are pushing for more law enforcement agencies to take a "pre-arrest diversion and deflection" approach.

"It really is addressing the overdose and opioid crisis ahead of the game," said Charles Cardona, director of corporate development for Linden-based Ammon Labs, a founding partner of the Police, Treatment and Community Collaborative (PTACC).

"This is before people actually get arrested, letting the police intervene and work with the people they see having problems out there," Cardona said.

The partnership held a luncheon Thursday to unite law enforcement officials and addiction treatment providers, giving all a glimpse into pre-arrest diversion programs already in place, and serving as an opportunity for the two sides to connect and link up through their own collaborations down the line.

"Law enforcement is in a very unique position to be able to address this problem," Cardona said. "But once law enforcement has recognized that there is a problem, what do they do with them?"

Overdoses took more than 2,700 lives in New Jersey in 2017, and could take another 3,000 in 2018 by year's end. The opioid antidote Narcan was administered more than 13,000 times between Jan. 1 and Oct. 31 of this year.

Of the approximately 18,000 police departments in the United States, about 400 have a pre-arrest program in place, Cardona said. A half-dozen or so can be found in the Garden State.

A team of volunteer "angels" is on call with the West Orange Police Department, which, through their unique program Operation HOPE, allows addicts to show up with their illegal or legal drugs, or paraphernalia, and start the path toward recovery.

West Orange Police Chief James Abbott
West Orange Police Chief James Abbott (Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ)

"We will welcome them with open arms," said West Orange Police Chief James Abbott, one of the event's speakers. "No matter the hour, day and night ... we will get somebody in to come and sit with them until we can get them to RWJBarnabas Health for detox purposes if they need it."

From there, Abbott said, individuals are sent to Integrity House for care.

"I would just implore any of my fellow colleagues throughout the state that they if they don't have a program like this, to implement one," Abbott said. "I think sooner or later the Attorney General is going to mandate it."

Event attendees also heard from Morris County Sheriff James Gannon, who discussed the success of their mobile recovery access service HOPE ONE, which has sent 170 people to treatment programs since launching over a year ago.

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