More people died from opioid overdoses in Camden County last year than from homicide and motor vehicle crashes combined.

In response to the prescription pill and heroin epidemic, the county freeholder board has announced a one-year pilot program — similar to statewide drug court — that focuses on connecting nonviolent defendants with licensed social service professionals in the municipal court system.

"We believe that those with an addiction disorder have their first experience in the court system at the municipal level," Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli told New Jersey 101.5. "So we think that's when we want to try to intervene."

Based on one's willingness to accept treatment, charges can be dismissed.

"We think this program will help fight recidivism in the criminal justice system," Cappelli said.

According to Cappelli, nearly 50 percent of the county's inmates enter jail with an opioid use disorder. The county has seen more than 230 opioid deaths in 2018 — already a much higher tally than what was recorded in all of 2017.

The program, called Project SAVE (Substance Abuse Visionary Effort), is modeled on an initiative underway in Gloucester Township since 2014.

The township has been able to reach 178 individuals hooked on opioids, including Angel Nelke, who's been sober since participating in Project SAVE in 2015.

"This program helped me get my life back," Nelke said. "It does exactly what it says — it saves."

For the pilot program's duration, the county will be paying the cost of manning the courts with licensed professionals, Cappelli said.

"We plan on seeking some grant money very aggressively to help fund this program moving forward," he said.

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