Help instead of handcuffs: N.J. lawmakers consider offering treatment through police

New Jersey lawmakers are considering establishment of addiction and recovery programs at police departments to increase drug users' access to help. (waewkid/Bigstock)

New Jersey lawmakers are considering establishment of addiction and recovery programs at police departments to increase drug users' access to help. (waewkid/Bigstock)

A bill advancing in the New Jersey Assembly would set regulations for establishing addiction and recovery programs in law enforcement departments throughout the state.

The measure is an effort to increase access to treatment for those addicted to heroin and opiates.

During a hearing Monday, West Orange Police Chief James Abbott said many families won’t call the police department for help on how to deal with drug addiction because of the fear of prosecution.

“If we can get rid of that stigma and encourage people to walk into the police department rather than through the backdoor in handcuffs, but voluntarily through the front door, I think we’ll make tremendous strides in combating opioid use,” he said.

Mark Ackerman, the director of admissions at Integrity House, says 460 of the 500 residential treatment beds there are filled with opiate addicts.

Most addicts arrive at the halfway house in Newark in handcuffs.

“If we were able to increase the number of individuals that walk through on their own and then take law enforcement out of the equation, take corrections out of the equation, it frees up those services for where they’re truly needed,” Ackerman said.

Assembly Judiciary Committee chairman John McKeon believes the legislation would make a difference.

“For someone who’s addicted to be able to show up at the local police department — and to have a safe harbor — and giving in their paraphernalia and whatever drugs they might have, and being initially and immediately connected to a proper behavior health center is a way that I think is going to save lives,” said McKeon, D-Essex.

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