Program Helps Addicts Come Forward Despite Fear Of Arrest

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OCEAN COUNTY – A new program in place in Brick and Manchester that allows drug abusers to go to police headquarters to seek help for their addiction without the fear of being arrested has had 30 addicts come through Brick in the first two weeks.

Brick and Manchester are the only two townships in New Jersey that are participating in the Heroin Addiction Response Program (HARP), where addicts are urged to turn their drugs over to the police and complete a rehabilitation program.

Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato, Brick Police Chief James Riccio and Manchester Police Chief Lisa Parker announced the program in January, which is the latest initiative to offer recovery options for those who suffer from addiction and who are seeking help.

The two police departments are partnering with Preferred Behavioral Health in Lakewood and Integrity House in Toms River for the pilot program.

Brick Mayor John G. Ducey described the first weeks of the program, in a discussion at the February 8 council meeting.

In Brick, anyone who is addicted to heroin can go to the police station at Town Hall on Thursdays to say that they want help, Ducey said.

Addicts can go to the Manchester Police Department on Wednesdays.

The program is available to anyone, not just those from Brick or Manchester.

“So that’s hopefully 30 lives that we saved. We saved them this far and hopefully they’ll get themselves better and healthy and get back to being productive citizens,” Ducey said. “We want to get the word out there that it is available and will be available.”

The mayor called the HARP rehabilitative program the “third prong” in the fight against opioid abuse. The other two prongs are education and enforcement.

“It’s for those that want help, and those that need help. No criminal charges would be filed, and a screening is made by our police department,” the mayor said. “Then the addict is brought to Preferred Behavioral, who are professionals, and a bed is found for the addict where he or she is hopefully on the road to recovery.”

Brick Councilwoman Marianna Pontoriero said many residents have asked how the program works and what the program does.

She said she recently accompanied her friend and her friend’s son, who is suffering from a heroin addiction to police headquarters and who wanted to partake in the HARP program.

“I am flabbergasted by the level of dedication of our officers who did the intake for this young man who was really on his last legs, who really just asked for mercy and said please just help me,” Pontoriero said.

Her friend tried to get inpatient help for her son at least four times, but he would only be approved for a two-week stay in rehab, she said. In the HARP program, he was approved for a 30-day stay, she added.

“He really feels that this is a chance at a full recovery,” Pontoriero said. “The officers who conducted the intake were compassionate, sympathetic and you could tell that they really wanted this young man to succeed.”

After he was assessed, Brick police officers transported her friend’s son to Preferred Behavorial Health in Lakewood, and within a few hours he was placed at another facility, and he’s doing “extraordinarily well” she said.

“So if anyone is thinking how to utilize the program, what do you do? You would simply walk in, tell them that you need help and they’ll start with an assessment and you will have a bed and a place to be within hours,” Pontoriero said.

While the officers were doing the intake on her friend’s son, another walk-in came in to seek help, she said.

HARP is primarily designed for those who seek help at the police station, but if an officer encounters a person outside the police station who they believe would benefit from the program, they have the discretion to bring the individual to the police station if the person consents to the voluntary screening process.

Ducey said there are beds available for anyone who is addicted to opioids or heroin.

“If you want help, the help is here for you,” he said. “We want to get you better.”