Members of the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office and law enforcement, accompanied by Recovery Support Specialists from Reach for Recovery (R4R), Richard Hall Community Mental Health Center and OHH Coordinators from the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General, have introduced the new "Operation Helping Hand" outreach vehicle designed to conduct door-to-door outreach to known residents with substance use disorders.

COVID-19 has changed the way people work and go to to school. But unfortunately, what has not changed is the uptick in substance abuse, said Somerset County Prosecutor Michael Robertson.

As a result, the opioid epidemic is ever-present in New Jersey and even worse. He said because of COVID, people were reluctant to go to the county where resources were readily available. So instead, Robertson said the help would come to them. So through grant funding from the state and federal government, the "Operation Helping Hand" mobile unit was bought.

It will be staffed with law enforcement, mental health and recovery specialists. Prior to the vehicle, these same folks had been going out in the community including public places like the Bridgewater Mall and Starbucks. They would sit outside with pamphlets as well as information to inform the public what services the county provides and how they can help those suffering from addiction.

Robertson said with the addition of the van, the county can expand its geographic footprint in the county and they will go to commercial venues and personal residences as well.

The reality is law enforcement and EMT and EMS folks know who suffers from addiction in their community because too often, they have to respond to those locations to administer Narcan, which is used for emergency treatment of an opioid overdose.

The frustration for the loved ones who have to deal with this is they don't know where to take their spouse, son or daughter. Robertson said these resources are readily available but there's a reluctance to get in a car and take them there.

So, Robertson said the county decided to come to them. "It's more of a proactive approach for law enforcement and the other entities that we collaborate with to serve the community for this pressing issue."

Robertson recalls a time when law enforcement and mental health and recovery specialists were at the Bridgewater Mall. They had a table set up with pamphlets and resources available. People were milling about and actually said to the law enforcement individuals at the table that they didn't know they did this or even cared about it.

"For me as the chief law enforcement officer, that really resonates and hits home because that's exactly what I want the public to understand and know," Robertson said.

To steal a phrase from a former colleague, Robertson said, "you can't arrest our way out of this situation." This is one area where law enforcement can't arrest people for addiction because it's a disease.

Robertson said he believes people who truly understand law enforcement, know they are there to do the right thing and to help the community any way they can.

Besides Somerset County, he said Morris County has a similar vehicle to "Operation Helping Hand."

"I think the name, "Operation Helping Hand" is just that. We're here to help and give a helping hand," Robertson added.

To find a list of places where the outreach vehicle will be, go to www.co.somerset.nj.us.

Parkway stops getting renamed after these NJ greats

Some of New Jersey's most iconic figures are getting their names on something other than awards or gold records: Garden State Parkway rest stops.