Project SAVE continuing to help those with addiction

Camden County looking to emulate Gloucester Township program to other towns if possible

September is National Recovery Month, a month dedicated to increase awareness and an understanding of mental and substance abuse use disorders, and also to get to celebrate those that are recovering.

Unique to Camden County is the Addiction Awareness Task Force, formed four years ago to increase awareness among those in the county of the problem of heroin and prescription drug abuse and the effect it has on the community.

Of its many goals upon initially launching, a main objective was to support the creation of additional resources that treat and prevent addiction to such drugs.

“It was organized and formed through the Camden County Board of Freeholders. The Board recognized at that time that an epidemic existed in Camden County of opioid addiction,” said Camden County Freeholder Louis Cappelli. “We thought it was best that we form this task force to fight this disease and to find ways to make treatment available.”

Upon creation, the task force has already been able to help on many fronts by spreading awareness of the problem and also by labeling the problem as a serious threat that the county looks to alleviate through legislation and proactive thinking, before a problem for individuals becomes much larger.

Gloucester Township’s Project SAVE (Substance Abuse Visionary Effort) Program, started by the township itself, is one that the Addiction Awareness Task Force admires and reportedly would like to see emulated in other town’s within the county.

Project SAVE encompasses multiple different facets in order to help those with drug and alcohol addictions, with one of the most prominent initiatives coming in the form of having a drug and alcohol professional in the Gloucester Township Municipal Court.

According to Gloucester Township’s website, they were the first in the state to add a professional licensed alcohol and drug counselor to its court.

Statistics provided by the township show that since June of 2014, the SAVE advocate has offered services to 158 individuals in order to help address and solve their addiction.

Of the 158 individuals, 80 percent have engaged in the project and over 70 percent of people that have seen to the end of the project have not been arrested since completing the program.

For reasons like this, the county is looking to find a way to expand such a program to other courts in order to help addicts before their addictions become more serious.

“Right now, we are actually trying to create a pilot program that is based on the model of Municipal Drug court of Gloucester Township with Project Save,” said Cappelli. “The Mayor and Police Chief in Gloucester Township have created this program that is a good way to put those that are arrested at a municipal level into treatment, if they want it. This is something they want to take county wide.”

Nothing official has been announced or is set in stone, however the system that Gloucester Township has set in place is one that could potentially help individuals in other towns. Whereas individuals would have to commit serious offenses or become repeat offenders to get into superior drug court, this system seeks to stop the addiction before it becomes much more dangerous.

“The hope is to try to get those that are perhaps just beginning to see the symptoms of their disease,” said Cappelli. “It’s perhaps the first, second or maybe even third encounter with law enforcement. We’re trying to reach out to those with an addiction disorder earlier than otherwise would occur with drug court. “

Patti DiRenzo, a task force appointee with the Addiction Awareness Task Force, lives in Gloucester Township and lost her son before the creation of Project SAVE to addiction.

DiRenzo believes such a program could have helped save her son’s life had it been around while he was alive, but of course is happy to see that it has the chance to help others.

“That’s the best time to capture them,” said DiRenzo. “I think it’s an amazing program and I’m glad other kids are benefitting from it.”