(Gloucester Township, NJ) – In an aggressive effort to continue to fight against the public health crisis, opioid use disorder, the Freeholder Board is initiating a groundbreaking new program called Project (Substance Abuse Visionary Effort) SAVE. This one year pilot program will focus on early intervention by licensed social service professionals in the municipal court system to combat the scourge of prescription pill and heroin use that has ravaged our community. Defendants will be linked to the appropriate resources regardless of their ability to pay.
Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr, founder and active member of the Camden County Addiction Awareness Task Force, talked about intervention being the next operational phase.
“We are looking at all options to make a long-term impact on this epidemic,” Cappelli said. “We have seen the impact this program has had on a small scale in Gloucester Township and we believe as a governing body we should be opening it up and providing the same hope and opportunity for treatment, detox and recovery throughout the entire county. It is no secret that every municipality in the county is struggling with this crisis and the sooner we have the ability to get professionals intervening to stop it, the better off residents will be.”
This program is being implemented for one year to look at the effectiveness of having an advocate and navigator for nonviolent offenders suffering from opioid use disorder. The objective of this program will be to save lives, stabilize individuals suffering through the throes of addiction and reduce recidivism in the criminal justice system. Today, more than 50 percent of our inmates entering the Camden County Jail have a use disorder and 277 individuals lost their lives to opioid overdose throughout the county in 2017.
Angel Nelke went through Project SAVE in 2015 has been sober since the intervention in the Gloucester Township municipal court. She talked about the experience and the impact it had on her.
“This program helped me get my life back, it does exactly what it says- it saves,” Nelke said.
By harnessing the use of regional contract management services the Freeholder Board can leverage economies of scale for the participating towns to lower the overall costs of the program. The Freeholder Board will be allocating $100,000 to start the program and monitor its investment through the county Department of Health and Human Services with the 18 incoming municipalities like any other grant program. Furthermore, the Board continues to invest funds into this epidemic because more people died of opioid overdoses in the county in 2017 than from homicide and motor vehicle accidents combined.
Congressman Donald Norcross, Vice-Chair of the Bipartisan Task Force to Combat the Heroin Epidemic, has been an advocate and dedicated time and energy to this issue.
“Every single year we’re losing more Americans to the opioid epidemic than we did in all of the Vietnam War, and in the past eight years, opioid deaths in New Jersey have increased six-fold. Here in Camden County, we know that we have to work together and expand access to resources to help those suffering from the disease of addiction,” Norcross said. “Modeling this program on an already-successful effort in Gloucester Township is a sensible way to help residents county-wide. In Congress, we just passed a large, bipartisan package aimed at curbing the opioid epidemic, and I am proud to be involved in meaningful efforts on the local, national and state levels.”
This pilot program is being modeled and based on the current initiative Gloucester Township created in 2014. Since the start of their program until this September the township has been able to reach 178 individuals suffering from opioid use disorder.
Law enforcement has been a key partner in the ongoing fight against opioid use disorder and Gloucester Township Chief Harry Earle endorsed the expansion of the program.
“The expansion of Project SAVE throughout Camden County will help prevent further tragic deaths due to this epidemic while also assisting police in reducing crime because we know that arrest alone does not effectively reduce crime,” Earle said.
As the nation grapples with an evolving public health crisis that has, according to the Centers for Disease Control, killed 72,000 people last year the Freeholder Board will be working and looking for more innovative ways to treat individuals in crisis.
“I believe opioid use disorder is the number one challenge facing the county today,” Cappelli continued. “We have funded treatment, worked with our healthcare providers and funded progressive harm reduction policies. This is the next phase for us to get at the heart of the issue.”
The Camden County Addiction Awareness Task Force, created by the Freeholder Board in 2014, maintains the website www.addictions.camdencounty.com to help educate residents on the resources available to prevent and treat addiction. If you or a loved one needs help please call our 24/7 toll-free confidential hotline for addiction help at (877) 266-8222 or call 911 in the event of an emergency.
The Camden County Office of Mental Health and Addiction is located in the Michael J. DiPiero Center for Human Services, 512 Lakeland Road in Gloucester Township. You can reach them by phone at (856) 374-6361.