By Michael Hill
East Brunswick Police Officer Craig Hoover is on the front line in reaching out to and referring addicts to treatment.
“There’s some community programs that we run and that’s great, but this is life and death,” he said.
East Brunswick launched its Opiate Outreach Initiative in January. When addicts come to the attention of the police department — whether through petty crime or overdoses — it’s Officer Hoover who calls them and encourages them to seek treatment.
“So far we’ve had a lot of success. I feel that the program is really humanizing the issue and it’s really a change in police thinking that needs to occur. We are not winning this fight,” he said.
One success story: 25-year-old Courtney Weissman.
“I basically got to the point where my addiction was worse than it had ever been. My life was completely unmanageable. I got kicked out of my house that I was living in. I didn’t know what my options were, but I knew that the police station had a program,” she said.
Officer Hoover called Weissman and referred her to SOBA — Saving Opiate Burdened Addicts — in New Brunswick for detox and today Weissman lives in a Florida halfway house.
“It’s just incredible to be able to do normal things like wake up in the morning and go to work without worrying about if I’m going to be sick halfway through the day or not. I never thought I would be able to get back to that,” she said.
“It’s having a great impact. It’s a huge thing that’s been needed, there’s been a big movement in New Jersey and across the country to have police assisted programs,” said Clinical Outreach Director Joel Pomales.
Today, the Obama administration announced the Affordable Care Act has provided help to 60 million people with mental health and substance abuse issues and there was a dramatic decrease in opioid use.
“This administration decided to take this issue very seriously and to begin the process of raising the awareness in this country so that we would put substance use disorder on the same level, if you will, as we put diabetes and cancer and some of the other chronic diseases,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.
Back in Middlesex County, Officer Hoover says the outreach is about finding success and saving lives.
“It’s just convincing people to get the help, and it may not be the miracle the first time, but not giving up,” he said.