Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office launches ‘Straight to Treatment’ program

County residents addicted to drugs can seek treatment options at the Evesham Township Police Department without fear of being arrested.

Instead of straight to jail for drug addicts in Burlington County, now there’s the option of “Straight to Treatment.”

The Evesham Township Police Department will serve as the first location in the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office’s new Straight to Treatment program, which allows Burlington County residents battling drug addiction to turn in their drugs and seek treatment without the fear of being arrested.

The program seeks to connect drug addicts with a drug and alcohol counselor from Oaks Integrated Care of Mt. Holly, which offers treatment for substance abuse and will use its network of organizations to get addiction treatment for those who come forward.

According to Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina, the county experienced 141 drug overdose deaths in 2017, which equates to a 70 percent increase from the 83 overdose deaths in the county in 2016.

In addition to those deaths from overdose, Coffina said county law enforcement and emergency responders deployed overdose-reversal medications such as naloxone more than 900 times in 2017, saving almost as many people from drug-overdose deaths.

Without deployment of overdose-reversal drugs, Coffina said Burlington County could have approached nearly 1,000 overdose deaths in 2017.

With those statistics in mind, Coffina said he believes fighting opioid addiction requires a three-prong approach of vigorous law enforcement, ubiquitous education and expanded access to treatment.

It’s that access to treatment Coffina hopes to bolster with his office’s new Straight to Treatment program.

“This program will provide a safe and effective avenue for people struggling with addiction to find their way to treatment by coming to the Evesham police station during designated hours, where they will be screened and referred directly into treatment, or will leave with a specific plan for treatment,” Coffina said.

In addition to getting help, Coffina said participants in the program can turn in any drugs or drug paraphernalia without being charged with possession offenses.

Coffina also said he was “incredibly grateful” to the Evesham Township Police Department and Oaks Integrated Care for committing resources toward the new program, as well as the treatment providers Oaks will draw upon to find programs that meet the needs of each individual who asks for help.

Coffina also noted no taxpayer funds would be used for the program, as the prosecutor’s office, ETPD and Oaks Integrated Care would be using already available resources, including Oaks’ use of insurance when available, scholarships and assistance from groups that fund drug addiction treatment.

According to Coffina, the program will run at the Evesham Township Police Department on Mondays, from noon to 7 p.m. Coffina said participants will be met with “compassion” by an Evesham officer, who will take basic information, confirm the well being of the participant and secure any drugs or paraphernalia.

However, Coffina noted the program is not a “get out of jail free card” as some might believe, as police will still be required to check on any outstanding warrants concerning the individual and take action if required.

Yet even then, Coffina said the Evesham Township Police Department is committed to working with participants, as well as well as the prosecutor’s office and municpal court system, to attempt to clear any outstanding warrants with the goal of getting participants the help they are seeking.

If warrants cannot be cleared and individuals must be taken into custody, Coffina said the individual and Oaks would still be given information about one another to attempt to help the individual find treatment options once released from custody.

According to Coffina, his office chose the Evesham Township Police Department as the first location for the program due to the department already serving as one of the county’s larger and more proactive law enforcement agencies, although he does hope the program would expand to other locations in the future.

Evesham Chief of Police Christopher Chew said he believed the program would reduce the impact of opioid abuse in the community, as Evesham was also dealing with significant increases in the number of opioid overdose investigations and deaths in recent years.

Chew said overdoses in Evesham increased from 34 in 2016 to 71 in 2017, with the township seeing 11 fatal overdoses in 2017 and already three fatal overdoses in 2018.

“This has been a total collaborative effort, and I’m really looking forward to participating with the prosecutor’s office and Oaks in this Straight to Treatment program,” Chew said.

As of the first day of the program on March 26, officials with the Evesham Township Police Department and Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office already reported a “successful” start, with several individuals already visiting the Evesham Township Police Department to seek help for their addiction.

Officials said the individuals were greeted by professionals from Oaks Integrated Care, Maryville Addiction Treatment Center, Enlightened Solutions, Solstice Counseling and Wellness Center and ETPD officers.