Camden County’s Project SAVE program reaches 10,000 referrals, adds mental health services

About 36 municipalities in Camden County participate in Project SAVE. To date, the program has helped make more than 3,400 treatment admissions.

After going through addiction treatment, Felisha Buzard is a student at Camden County College and looks forward to regaining custody of her 2-year-old daughter. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

After going through addiction treatment, Felisha Buzard is a student at Camden County College and looks forward to regaining custody of her 2-year-old daughter. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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A Camden County municipal court program designed to connect people living with addiction to treatment and social services is expanding to include mental health support.

Project SAVE, which recently hit a milestone of receiving more than 10,000 referrals to help people, now includes two mental health navigators who can offer additional treatment options for people living with co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders.

“It is vital to understand that individuals grappling with substance use often have underlying mental health conditions that remain untreated,” said Colleen Snow, assistant director of the Camden County Office of Mental Health and Addiction. “Without addressing these underlying issues, real rehabilitation efforts can be significantly hindered.”

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The new mental health unit, added to the program in 2023, is being funded in part with the county’s share of settlement payouts from national lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors for their role in the opioid epidemic.

A group of local officials, judges, law enforcement officers, addiction treatment providers and others launched Project SAVE as a countywide initiative in 2019 following a one-year pilot program.

If someone who uses drugs or who has a substance use disorder is facing non-violent criminal charges and appears, or is due to appear, in a municipal court, they get referred to Project SAVE.

Trained navigators and social services professionals then meet with people and connect them to drug and alcohol treatment and assistance with housing, employment, transportation and other supports.

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People who enroll and continue in treatment programs may face reduced criminal charges or sentencing.

Felicia Buzard said entering into this program in 2019 when she was facing charges for driving under the influence led her to where she is now, approaching five years in recovery from alcohol and opioid use.

“To have that support during a time where you’re just all over the place was great,” said Buzard, who now works for the county and runs a nutrition program for seniors. “My daughter has her mother. I’m present. I’m here. I’m dependable. I’m all the things I wasn’t when I was in my mess.”

Project SAVE partners with Genesis Counseling Centers for substance use treatment and mental health care.

Since adding the mental health navigators last year, program leaders say they’ve enrolled about 110 people into Project SAVE for mental health needs. About 80% of those people have gone on to receive some kind of inpatient or outpatient treatment.

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