LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Police program helps reduce overdose deaths in Ocean County

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

I was at the end and I was struggling hard,” said Megan.

Megan is 32. She has battled addiction first to opioids at 13, thanks to a knee surgery, and then on to heroin.

“And I was doing anything and everything I could to get the drugs,” she continued.

On Sept. 1, potentially facing criminal charges hanging over her head and with her mother leading the way, Megan walked into the Brick Police Department. She knew she would get help instead of handcuffs under Blue HART, the Heroin Addiction Recovery and Treatment program.

“I was excited and happy, nervous at the same time, but I just wanted it so bad,” she continued.

Within an hour, the uninsured Megan was in detox, and seven days later going to 30 days of treatment in Minnesota.

Brick Police were the first to offer Blue HART. Next month, Point Pleasant Police will become the sixth department in Ocean County to offer it one day a week.

“We in law enforcement have taken a paradigm swing,” said Point Pleasant Police Chief Rick Larsen.

Preferred Behavioral Health Group will do the medical assessments for Point Pleasant Police as it does in Brick where parents have accompanied addicts, as Megan’s mom did.

“Oh, it’s so beneficial because you know exactly what the real deal is. It’s not like we’re just hearing it from the client. We’re getting collateral information,” said Anthony Castellano, vice president of substance use services at Preferred Behavioral Health Group.

Ocean County says 260 men and women have sought help through Blue HART since it launched in January, producing stories of setbacks and success. Combined with the recovery coach program, 700 have sought treatment this year in Ocean County.

Ocean County reports it had 209 overdose deaths in 2016, and right now is on pace for 2017 to have a 25 percent drop.

“Seven hundred people have been approached and have gotten into the system, either to treatment or detox, as a result of the programs that we instituted. We’re hopeful that is one of the reasons why our death toll is continuing now to drop, despite the fact that there’s fentanyl throughout the county,” said Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato.

Coronato says those in recovery sign HIPPA waivers so his office can track their progress, hoping to find them clean, sober and contributing to society after 18 months. He and Blue HART’s chief recovery specialist are making plans to expand the program to seven days a week.

“What you’ve seen is at least a staggering percentage decline because of the numbers. We’re capturing them, there are some that are not dead that are still out there, but then there are some like the Megans that are really doing the deal and getting their stuff together. That’s how we’re going to get out of this, when we have the Megans that then become recovery specialists and are now outreaching and helping the other. That’s the only way.” said Blue HART Chief Recovery Specialist John Brogan.

When asked how she’s doing now, Megan replied, “I’m doing great.”

Megan says all 21 counties should have Blue HART, offering help through police departments without the fear of arrest or prosecution.