HELP IS COMING

For those who suffer from addiction, every day is a struggle. And for many, it often seems like there is no hope — or help — to get out of that well-known vicious cycle. But thanks to a new program spearheaded by the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office and the Office of the New Jersey Attorney General, it appears some help is on the way.

Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez last week announced the launching of “Operation Helping Hand” — an initiative that aims to be part of a statewide solution to the opioid epidemic by linking addicts with recovery services if they find themselves arrested on drug charges.

It all kicked off in the early-morning of Friday, Jan. 24, when approximately two dozen officers from the HCPO and the Jersey City Police Department targeted multiple areas of Jersey City. They wound up arresting eight people they observed purchasing heroin via hand-to-hand transactions.

Those arrested were later transported to the Prosecutor’s Office for processing, where they were met with addiction-recovery specialists and case managers from the RWJBarnabas Health Institute for Prevention and Recovery.

Additional support was also provided by Jersey City Medical Center Emergency Medical Services.

Nearly all of the eight individuals arrested agreed to recovery assistance through the new program.

Of the eight, six received services from the Institute for Prevention and Recovery, one agreed to immediately enter a detox-treatment program at the Hudson County Correctional Center and one was transported directly to the Jersey City Police Department because of an outstanding warrant.

This was the first of several operations planned for municipalities in Hudson County.

“Working together with our social-services partners and recovery professionals, law enforcement can serve as a bridge between addiction and recovery,” Suarez said. “If we can save even one life, we have made an impact, but we believe this program will save many lives and help countless others rebuild for a positive future.”

While the individuals must still face their criminal drug charges, by volunteering for recovery support, they have an opportunity to instead attend Drug Court — and, if they successfully complete treatment, there is the potential for them to see their current and past drug charges expunged from their criminal records.

According to Lynn Seaward, assistant director of the Institute for Prevention and Recovery, the aforementioned individual who entered detox was emotional and grateful for the support, saying “his prayers had been answered” and calling the day “the best day of his life.”

Seaward pointed to significant results through the intervention work with law enforcement, including that 80% of those individuals utilizing their services have found employment within the first 90 days.

“We have seen so much success this year with people turning their lives around, securing housing and new jobs,” Seaward said. “For them, having the support and having someone to walk with them, hand-in-hand through the process, has made all the difference.”

The Jersey City Medical Center’s top executive says he’s thrilled to be part of such an innovative, forward-thinking program.

“(The) Jersey City Medical Center is committed to transforming our community’s health beyond the walls of our hospital,” Michael Prilutsky, president and CEO of the JCMC said. “This includes addressing social factors that affect health. We will continue to remain actively engaged with our community partners in making a difference on critical issues.”

“We want to thank all of our partners who collaborated with us on this initial round of ‘Operation Helping Hand’ and look forward to expanding it throughout Hudson County in the coming weeks and months,” Suarez said.

“Operation Helping Hand” is funded through the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General. In September, the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office received a $100,000 grant to launch the program in Hudson County.

In 2016, while serving as the Bergen County Prosecutor, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal developed “Operation Helping Hand” as a new and innovative way to combat opioid addiction. Under his leadership, the first multi-county program debuted.

“Operation Helping Hand” was launched in five counties in June 2018. Through state and federal funding, the program was expanded to 17 counties in September 2018 and to all 21 counties in the state in September.

“We applaud the launch of Hudson County’s first ‘Operation Helping Hand’ initiative and the lives it has touched,” Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said. “We look forward to the program’s continued success. Each individual provided a pathway to recovery brings us one step closer to defeating the opioid epidemic.”

The program, as it exists now, is only available in Jersey City, according to the HCPO. However, at a meeting of the county’s chiefs of police last month, a discussion took place to determine how to and if and when to expand it throughout the entire county.

George King, Kearny’s chief of police, said he will inform The Observer and the public if and when the program is expanded to the West Hudson area.

The Observers Kevin Canessa may be reached by email at kc@theobserver.com or @kevincanessa on Facebook and Twitter. Your feedback is welcome and encouraged.

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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.