Reaching out

Operation Helping Hand assists arrested narcotics users

Operation Helping Hand launches in Hudson County, linking narcotics users with recovery assistance.
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Operation Helping Hand launches in Hudson County, linking narcotics users with recovery assistance.

Around 24 officers from the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office (HCPO) and the Jersey City Police Department targeted multiple areas of Jersey City during the early morning hours of Friday, Jan. 24, arresting eight people they witnessed allegedly purchasing heroin through hand-to-hand transactions.

Due to Operation Helping Hand, a new initiative launched in Hudson County by the HCPO last month, these people now have a chance at recovery.

Operation Helping Hand is a statewide initiative that aims to be part of the solution to the opioid epidemic by linking narcotics users with recovery services at the time of an arrest.

Six seek treatment

The eight individuals arrested were 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, with additional support provided by Jersey City Medical Center Emergency Medical Services.

Of the eight people arrested, six received services from the Institute for Prevention and Recovery, one agreed to enter an immediate detox treatment program at the Hudson County Correctional Center, and one was transported to the Jersey City Police Department due to an outstanding warrant.

According to Assistant Director of the Institute for Prevention and Recovery Lynn Seaward, the person 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 noted significant results through the institute’s intervention work with law enforcement, saying that 80 percent of those using its services 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.”

While the offenders will still have to face criminal charges, by volunteering for recovery support they can enter Drug Court. If they successfully complete treatment, they have the potential to see their current and past drug charges expunged.

“Working together with our social services partners and recovery professionals, law enforcement can serve as a bridge between addiction and recovery,” said Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez. “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.”

In September, the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office received a $100,000 grant from the New Jersey Attorney General’s office to launch Operation Helping Hand in Hudson County.

“We applaud the launch of Hudson County’s first Operation Helping Hand initiative and the lives it has touched,” said New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal. “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.”

Statewide initiative

Operation Helping Hand is a statewide initiative funded through the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General.

In 2016, while serving as the Bergen County Prosecutor, Attorney General Grewal developed Operation Helping Hand as a way to combat opioid addiction.

In June 2018, the first multi-county Operation Helping Hand initiative was launched in five counties. 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 2019.

From June 11 through June 15, 2018, law enforcement officers from Bergen, Morris, Passaic, Sussex, and Union counties arrested a 177 narcotics users and linked them to Operation Helping Hand

Of those 177, 148 accepted the offer of treatment or recovery support services. Only 29 rejected the offer of help. Three additional “walk-ins” were not arrested but were offered and accepted help after they learned of the program.

Of the 151 who accepted help, including the walk-ins, 102 accepted treatment. Services included in-patient detox, in-patient treatment, intensive outpatient treatment, medically assisted treatment, or a combination of the above. The other 49 accepted other recovery support services.

According to the HCPO, this is the first of several operations planned for municipalities in Hudson County.

“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,” Prosecutor Suarez said.

For updates on this and other stories check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Marilyn Baer can be reached at Marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.