The Camden County Board of Freeholders and Camden County Addiction Awareness Task Force announced a three-year extension of the Project SAVE (Substance Abuse Visionary Effort) pilot program last Wednesday at Camden County College in Blackwood.
Originally started in Gloucester Township in 2014, the program pairs licensed social service professionals with low-level offenders in municipal court systems across 34 of the 37 municipalities in the county in an effort to get residents’ treatment resources regardless of the ability to pay.
“The basic concept of Project SAVE is to become an early intervener for somebody who has been charged with a crime as related to a substance abuse disorder,” Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli, Jr. said. “The goal is to introduce that person to somebody who can provide treatment.”
During the first 12 months of the pilot program, 467 low-level offenders were successfully referred for treatment to end their substance dependence, according to figures provided by Camden County.
The results, Cappelli said, were so positive that the county is willing to commit to an extension of the program in a continuing effort to help those struggling with addiction.
“We took it county-wide this year,” Cappelli said. “All but three municipalities have joined and the results have been quite staggering, especially for what we thought was going to be a pilot program. The results have been so good and so important to the residents of Camden County that the board of freeholders (has) announced that we will commit to this program financially for another three years.”
According to Cappelli, the county expects the program to cost approximately $350,000 a year, but he explained that number can change depending on the number of referrals from each municipality.
“What we need to do as a county, what we need to do as a nation, is eliminate barriers to treatment,” Cappelli said. “Quite frankly, the Affordable Care Act has helped to some extent, but other than that, we are seeing no money from the federal government or from the state government to provide treatment.
“The board of freeholders believes this is a public health epidemic, and in order to address it, we must do as we have been for the past five years on our own,” Cappelli added.
After connecting individuals with professionals and getting them into treatment, the program continues contact with struggling addicts after referral with phone calls, meetings and other initiatives to ensure residents are following through after treatment.
Camden County resident Felisha Buzard, a recovering heroin addict and alcoholic, spoke during the Project SAVE announcement and gave her insights on the program, having recently gone through treatment and the court system, with the help of the pilot program.
“Project SAVE has given me so much back in my life and it’s been so overwhelming, the amount of support that I’ve received,” Buzard said. “Having that support in the courtroom when you feel so emotionally bankrupt and like you’ve failed … It was the greatest blessing.”
Buzard recalled that after a car accident last August resulted in her third DUI, she wasn’t expecting help from anywhere, much less from the municipal court system.
“That alone just broke me,” Buzard said. “And the last place I thought I was going to get help from was a courtroom.”
Because of Project SAVE, Buzard was able to receive an on-the-spot assessment that would eventually lead to nearly three weeks of inpatient treatment. Nearly a year later, Buzard is taking college classes at Camden County College and is about to retain custody of her daughter after months of progress.
With the program extension announced, Cappelli said he and the freeholder board have goals for Project SAVE’s future.
“First of all, we’re hoping for more in-treatment to deal with their health issues,” Cappelli said. “Secondly, we’re also using this program to apply for grants and other sources of funding, so that we hope to expand just the treatment into other things like job training and getting employers to hire those that are in recovery.”