Washington Township offers new programs to address addiction

The two initiatives are meant to ease entry to addiction help

Council President Joe Perry, Police Chief Patrick Gurcsik and Mayor Joann Gatinelli stand together to announce two new anti-drug programs to help those struggling with addiction.

Washington Township recently launched two programs to help residents of the community who struggle with drug or alcohol addiction

Both programs started in August and offer help through My Friends House Family Counseling, an outpatient program for people struggling with addiction in Woodbury Heights that facilitates treatment through therapy, specialists and other programs. 

“We are excited to roll this out because this is definitely something there is a need for,” said Washington Township Mayor Joann Gattinelli. “What a wonderful thing to do to be able to bring something into our town at this time, especially because we are well aware of the addiction and opioid crisis.”

The new programs are voluntary and make it easier for township residents to find help and support through addiction treatment. The Straight to Treatment program allows residents to walk into the township police department and be set up with a counselor from My Friends House.

A counselor will be at the police department every Monday between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. and will assist with treatment plans from start to finish. The program is voluntary and is also open to family and friends who may seek help for loved ones ready to end their battle with addiction.  

“If you want to talk to a provider, they speak ‘recovery,’” said Resha Jeneby, the assistant prosecutor for Gloucester County. “They know how to meet that person where they’re at and how to generate interest for them to go into a program … We just want you to get to the police department.”

The Road to Recovery initiative takes place in municipal court. It is designed to help residents struggling with addiction who have been arrested and sentenced for crimes related to their drug habit, such as  shoplifting. The program has three steps: application, agreement and authorization. Once the steps are completed, the individual can make his or her way through recovery. 

“All we want for you to do was take responsibility for what happened,” Jeneby explained. “We are going to do the rest and provide help because you said that might be the reason for the shoplifting or the drugs in your pocket. You’re addicted and you need help and you are trying to stop that cycle.”

Road to Recovery allows people who are struggling to have the chance to plead guilty to minor crimes and agree to start treatment. Individuals who choose that option have the chance to reduce their sentences or clear them all together. Each sentence will be reexamined between six months to a year later to determine if that individual has made an effort to stay clean.

“You are pleading guilty and you have to make an effort to go to treatment, get help, be clean, have negative urine results,” Jeneby said. “If you do that for six months to a year, your charges can get dismissed.”

Both Straight to Treatment and Road to Recovery are financed through two  grants called Operation Helping Hand, one awarded to the county and one to the state. The grants negate the need for taxpayer money to support the programs. 

“If there is a program out there and we can help one person, then we succeeded,” Gattinelli said. “If it’s not going to cost the taxpayers money and get the job done, it’s a win-win. I would want to be a part of that.”

 Along with Washington Township, the programs have been rolled out in Deptford, Woodbury and Monroe. But Gloucester County officials want to launch the initiatives in other towns as well by using a county grant.

“I think we have come to realize that we can’t arrest our way out of the opioid problem,” noted Washington Township Chief of Police Patrick Gurcsik. “We need to educate our police officers and community caretakers … We can’t be naive enough to think substance abuse hasn’t affected every family in every corner of our community.

“At the end of the day it benefits everyone to make the treatment available to help those who are suffering, those in the grip of addiction.”