Program Aims to Make Police Departments Safe Havens for Drug Addicts

By Erin Delmore

“You can turn yourself in to the police departments,” said Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronado.

The Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office is turning police departments into safe havens for drug addicts through a new initiative known as the Heroin Addiction Response Program, or HARP.

“They understand that we’re not looking to put people in jail. What we’re looking to do is help people,” Coronado said.

Ocean County’s been struggling to deal with an opioid abuse problem Coronado calls “an epidemic.” He says overdose deaths have almost doubled in the last year. Now the HARP program aims to intercept addicts before they overdose by pairing them with treatment and a recovery coach. Unlike other programs, which have been known to cherry pick clients based on their insurance policies, this one is open to all.

“Most of these individuals, there’s no insurance available. So we have to connect with partners. Unfortunately a lot of the time, they’re out of state, that can take them for six months,” said John Brogan, CARES chief recovery specialist and HARP liaison to the Ocean County Prosecutor.

Since the middle of January, the program’s taken in around 40 people. Coronado says 90 percent of them don’t have insurance. He said starting the road to recovery at a police department goes a long way in re-framing drug abuse as a public health issue, instead of a moral failing or crime.

“We’re still going after predators — the people that prey on people that have the substance abuse or have a drug problem. That, we still need to put those people in jail. We still need to make them accountable for their actions. But for the individuals who have this health problem, we need to help them. We need to open up our doors. We need to treat them and get them into treatment so that — for lack of a better word — we just don’t recycle them,” Coronado said.

Brogan has been down this path himself.

“Addiction is not a behavioral issue. If it was a behavioral issue, all these years, the jails would’ve worked. People would’ve gotten locked up in the jails, and then after doing 30, 60 or 90 days for a substance use related problem, they would’ve gotten out and never touched a substance again. But it is much deeper than that. It’s an internal condition that cannot be changed by external circumstances,” he said.

Brogran works out of Abundant Grace Church in Toms River — another place people dealing with substance abuse can go for help under HARP.

“This is something that was wrecking our community. I personally wanted to move. I didn’t want my grandchildren to be raised here. Now I have some hope. I have hope that it’s going to be the community that we’ve always known and loved,” said Patricia Healy, clinical director of the outpatient program at Abundant Grace Church.

HARP is active at two Ocean County police departments right now — Brick and Manchester — but officials hope to expand the pilot program to more communities.