During the week of June 3, 2019, The Camden County Prosecutor’s Office and the Camden Metro Police Department participated in a project known as Operation Helping Hand. Operation Helping Hand is an innovative initiative that uses law enforcement to connect individuals who have an opioid use disorder and are at-risk of overdose, to treatment, recovery and social support. The initiative involved law enforcement officers arresting individuals attempting to purchase heroin – or, in some cases, other narcotics – at open-air drug markets. Those buyers who were arrested were then immediately offered addiction intervention solutions. This is the first time Operation Helping Hand was conducted in Camden County.
In October 2018, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced the availability of $1 million in federal funds, which were subgranted from the NJ Department of Health, to provide grants to County Prosecutors’ Offices to establish or expand programs modeled on Operation Helping Hand.
During the week-long operation in Camden County, 126 individuals were arrested for minor drug related offenses. Individuals with substance use disorders were offered a variety of treatment programs and recovery support services. Of the 126 individuals that law enforcement made contact with, 17 entered into inpatient detox treatment, 25 entered intensive outpatient or community-based support program and 7 entered into medically assisted treatment.
The Camden County Prosecutor’s Office partnered with two local nonprofit groups: The Center for Family Services Living Proof Recovery Center and Opioid Overdose Recovery Program (OORP), from Voorhees, New Jersey. Peer specialists were on hand at the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office all week to successfully navigate these individuals into a variety of treatment programs and recovery support services.
Criminal charges are not dropped if the individual accepts help, but every effort is made to place him or her on the path to recovery, and judges presiding over these cases are informed of the individuals’ efforts to rehabilitate. Between 2015 and 2018, more than 900 people died due to a drug overdose in Camden County. During that same period, police officers across Camden County distributed the lifesaving overdose-reversal drug naloxone more than 8200 times.
Kim Govak and John Thompson, peer specialists from Living Proof Recovery Center believe “each individual is important” and that “if you can help one individual to heal, you can heal that individual’s family and, subsequently, their community.” Chief Bill Townsend of the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office noted, “fear of arrest will not deter someone struggling with addiction. We recognize that collaboration between the different disciplines is necessary if we are going to have any kind of success combating this crisis.”
Released Thursday, June 20, 2019.