The opioid epidemic spares no one, in any region or any socioeconomic or educational level. To make it worse, New Jersey has some of the strongest forms of the drug in the country.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal saw the crisis and felt that while education and enforcement remain powerful tools for fighting the scourge, it was time to try a more proactive method.
"We wanted an all-hands-on-deck approach," said Grewal at Smart Justice, an educational session Thursday at the NJSBA Annual Meeting and Convention. The office created Operation Helping Hand to work with counties to form community-based teams to offer addicts treatment at the time of arrest. It is now in 17 counties.
"I wanted to do something different. I didn't want to name and shame people...
What if we offered them a recovery specialist? Or what if we had a detox bed lined up for them at the time of arrest,... could we prevent the next fatality?" said Grewal. The result, he said, "was a sea change" and many who have come through the program have accepted the help and about 25 percent remain drug-free.
In addition to Grewal, the session examined the biology of addiction and what the federal courts are doing to address the epidemic.
"The question is not should we get involved or should we be talking about this?" said New Jersey Federal District Court Judge Esther Salas. "But, rather is it too late?"
Douglas B. Marlow, of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, explained that brain chemistry explains why incarceration doesn't fight addiction - because people can't learn to drug-fee live in a community where temptation is available. They need to practice refusing it.
"Jail and prison doesn't do anything (to end addiction)," he said.