By Cheryl Conway
A new initiative launched in Morris County last month is bringing services directly to local individuals struggling with addiction.
The Morris County Sheriff’s Office Community Services Unit, in partnership with the Morris County Department of Human Services, the Mental Health Association of Morris County, Morris County Prevention is Key and its Center for Addiction Recovery Education and Success, launched Hope One Mobile Recovery Access Center on Mon., April 3, at the Morristown Green. Hope One, a white van traveling to different locations twice weekly throughout the county, is serving as a mobile recovery access center to provide critical support for those addicted to drugs.
As a means to address the rise in opioid related deaths, the goal of Hope One is to help prevent drug overdoses and deaths in Morris County, especially to individuals who are alone and do not know where to run for help.
“I compare it to the model of the book mobile,” explains Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon. “We are providing services into the community,” to those of all ages “who are at risk, have no place to go, have no support.”
Gannon came up with the idea for Hope One while meeting with individuals in 2016 during his campaign for sheriff.
“I spoke to the people in the community and one of their top concerns was the opioid epidemic. It affects all ages. It’s not an issue that just affects children; it’s an issue that affects everyone,” with fatalities ages 17 to 79 in Morris County.
“I said let’s take it on the road,” says Gannon. “I have a vehicle; take off police marks; let’s bring services to the people.”
The priority areas include “at risk populations” such as the homeless, soup kitchens and “places where people are known” to be using opioids, says Gannon.
The vehicle, which previously had been used for tactical operations, “looks like an old bread truck,” describes Gannon. It is a white van with purple ribbon. “Purple is for recovery,” says Gannon. “We go out with a few folks in plain clothes, licensed clinician, certified peer recovery specialist, someone whose walked the walk;” who is closer to the problem, can speak with people , can offer them one on one.
“Our belief in recovery begins with conversation,” says Gannon. With that in mind, a licensed clinician and a certified peer recovery specialist is staffing the Hope One center.
“These individuals understand the needs of those who suffer from addiction and they will be best equipped to deal one on one with members of our communities,” the press release states.
Hope One staff will have pre-established services and available beds at various treatment centers for potential clients. The team will be equipped to connect the client with the appropriate services and/or facility and arrange for immediate transportation.
“I’m not here to take you to jail,” says Gannon. “I’m here to take you to the road to recovery. This is about getting those struggling with addiction off the street, and immediately connected with services, with the goal of returning them to be productive members of society and drug free. What makes this program unique is that the Hope One mobile recovery access center services are client driven. We travel to the client; they do not come to us. In addition, we are removing many of the barriers, which often times prevent our people, as well as family members, the ability to get the necessary help and into rehab. It is all about Hope.”
The Hope One mobile recovery access center is equipped with various resources and pre-established connections to critical services including treatment, recovery support and behavioral health, according to a press release.
On board is food, coffee, a charging station and cell phone chargers, says Gannon.
Since its first trip on April 3, Hope One has contacted 250 people and has placed seven in treatment centers in Morris County and beyond , says Gannon.
The van goes out for five hours a day on Mondays and Thursdays to all cities in the county.
“These are cold calls; we go out into the community without knowing anyone,” says Gannon. “If it’s quiet we’ll move to another location.”
Cost to run this program is about $300,000, says Gannon. Officials submitted a grant to the Federal Bureau of Justice. Until then, Hope One is being paid for by money seized from Morris County drug dealers through the Drug Forfeiture program.
“Drug dealers are paying for drug users,” says Gannon.
The numbers of opioid related deaths are up considerably this year as compared to this same time in 2016, Gannon confirms.
During the first three months this year in Morris County, there were 24 fatal opioid overdoses, compared to nine in the first quarter of 2016, says Gannon.
In addition, during the first quarter of 2017, Narcan was administered by the police in Morris County 45 times, compared to 122 times in the calendar year of 2016, according to the press release.
CARES is offering free Narcan kits and training to the public on the Hope One vehicle.
People on site are being trained to save a life, explains Gannon. This could be a family member or friend of an addict. “They are getting kits and learning how to use it,” he says.
Hope One is an affective program, Gannon says.
“The difference is this. “It’s wonderful to have hotlines; it’s great to have programs,” but difficult for those who have an addiction to navigate, to call a hotline or find a website for help.
“It’s very difficult for someone suffering an addiction,” says Gannon. “We are coming on location and providing these services, as long as the person is willing to take that first step, those willing to get treatment. We go to them, we don’t wait for them to come to us.”
Gannon says the program is successful so far because of all its supporters.
“The support that I’ve received from Morris County Adminstrators, Department of Human Services, Chief of Police Association, CARES, that’s why it’s so successful.” The Morris County prosecutor, “he recognized opioids as a disease.”
Louis A. Schwarz, president and CEO of the Mental Health Association of Morris County, says “Hope One is truly a unique partnership between law enforcement and the addiction and mental health communities in truly addressing the deadly problem of drug abuse in our community. We are looking forward to serving people where they are: on the streets, in shelters, in motels, and in other places where people are drinking and drugging.”
Morris County Prosecutor Fredric Knapp says, “The cost in human lives has been devastating due to the ongoing heroin and opioid epidemic. The Morris County Prosecutor’s Office has been at the forefront educating the public as well as employing traditional law enforcement efforts with our municipal, county, state and federal partners in battling this scourge. We must now, even more importantly focus our efforts on destigmatizing addiction and providing treatment for those plagued by this disease. The recovery coach program we are embarking upon is focused on that urgent need. The efforts of Sheriff Gannon are commendable in this unique approach battling addiction.”
Peer Recovery Specialist Alton Robinson said, “This is a win-win for all involved. Never in Morris County has there been such an innovative initiative to give individuals the opportunity to be heard and have access to services they otherwise would not have had. We are offering individuals hope!”
If a person in need of services sees the vehicle, Gannon says “flag us down. Call the sheriff’s office if you want us to come to you: 973-285-6600. Hope One welcomes anyone affected by addiction and behavioral health to look out for the truck. The folks requiring services will be brought to a treatment facility or program, and not jail. We’re here for you,” stated Gannon.
For further information on CARES, contact 973-625-1143.