The Burlington County Prosecutor's office has expanded its "Operation Helping Hand" initiative for those struggling with addiction.

Burlington County is one of many in New Jersey fighting a day-to-day battle against the drug abuse epidemic.

"We're experiencing overdoses (at) what we hope will be a slightly decreasing rate," County Prosecutor Scott Coffina said. "But it remains a very pervasive problem, particularly in our county. And lives are just devastated by it, and they're devastated by what's going on. Obviously there's the individual who's affected, but the ripple effect on their families and friends is really profound ."

Coffina says phase one of "Operation Helping Hand" involved reaching addicts recovering from overdoses and offering substance abuse treatment.

Personnel went to the scene of an overdose or to a hospital and broad broader recovery resources — "to make a connection and introduce a pathway to treatment for them," Coffina said. "And we were very pleased with those results. Of 50 people who had overdosed and been revived, 40 were actually open to working with the Recovery Coach or recovery specialist."

Round two involves recovery specialists accompanying police to those battling abuse.

"What we're able to do, with a little extra money that was supplied by the state for this grant program, is establish 24/7 coverage with recovery specialists (connections) initiated by law enforcement," Coffina said.

Police working in communities — even when arresting people on minor affections driven by addiction — are positioned to make those introductions, Coffina said. He called it a "warm handoff" from police to the specialists.

Coffina says said who are struggling with addiction say they don't know how to take the first step, "but having a relationship with a recovery specialist is that first step, and the recovery specialists can help get them in that right direction whenever they're ready.

"And they're not always ready on day one — sometimes it's just a conversation," he said.

Joe Cutter is the afternoon news anchor on New Jersey 101.5

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