BCPO combats county’s drug use epidemic

‘Operation Helping Hand’ partners with ‘City of Angels’ to help drug addicts understand sustained recovery is possible

Burlington County is expanding support services for those facing substance abuse problems.

After the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office implemented “Operation Helping Hand” in February, a program that offers assistance to substance abusers in the moments after they have been revived from an overdose, it has expanded the program to offer an increased level of addiction outreach to high-risk substance users in an effort to provide treatment options and support services prior to the occurrence of an overdose.

Prosecutor’s office officials reported the initiative has resulted in dozens of Burlington County residents being connected to addiction treatment services under the grant-funded program. Officials said the first round of “Operation Helping Hand” focused on reaching and offering substance abuse treatment to individuals in the county soon after they had been revived with Narcan.

As part of the second phase, recovery specialists have been available throughout August to respond to any call by law enforcement to assist an individual they encounter who is struggling with addiction, according to officials.

With the second phase of the program aimed to get underway, Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina said his professionals intend to find new ways to help those in need from substance abuse.

“Combating the drug use epidemic remains a top priority of our office, and we continue to look for diverse ways to offer assistance to those in need,” Coffina said in a statement. “We have expanded the scope of ‘Operation Helping Hand’ and can now provide additional outreach services to those who are at risk of overdosing, as well as others who could benefit from peer support services.”

Officials said the program is also run in partnership with “City of Angels,” a nonprofit recovery advocacy organization based in Mercer County. It is funded through grants from the United States Department of Health and Human Services that are administered by the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General, according to officials.

“The first round was very successful in terms of how receptive people were to working with recovery specialists to address their addiction,” Coffina said in a statement. “During the month of May, Burlington County experienced 70 overdoses, seven of which were fatal. Narcan was successfully administered on 37 occasions.

“In other instances, the individuals who overdosed recovered without the use of Narcan. Of the 50 people who were reached by recovery specialists and offered assistance, all but 10 indicated they would accept help, and 14 received addiction treatment,” Coffina added.

Officials reported the grant money received for the second phase of the program, which began Aug. 1, has been used to support around-the-clock availability of recovery specialists to respond to overdose reversals. Officials said they also have the ability to respond to calls by police officers to connect with individuals suffering from opioid use disorders, too.

From Aug. 1-15, officials said the county experienced four fatal overdoses. During that same period, “Operation Helping Hand” recovery coaches were deployed on 25 occasions to overdoses as well as requests for assistance. Their efforts resulted in 15 people expressing a desire to receive help, and five have begun treatment, according to officials.

“As with the first round, we have been very encouraged by these results,” Coffina said. “The City of Angels recovery specialists continue to do an outstanding job. They offer hope, real-life examples that sustained recovery is possible, and a critical ‘first step’ towards treatment to people in the throes of active addiction. We are very pleased to have them partner with us as we look for effective ways to help those who are struggling to turn around their lives.”

During the second phase of the program, officials said the recovery coaches will occasionally accompany law enforcement officers to be proactive and engage community members as well as develop relationships with the goal of providing on-the-spot referrals to treatment and other resources.