Heroin use in Atlantic County is on the rise, state statistics show, and if people have trouble seeking and getting help, the county is now prepared to more directly reach those residents.
The Atlantic County Sheriff’s Foundation will unveil a Hope One addiction mobile outreach van this month that will go into communities and neighborhoods to try and link people suffering from a substance-use disorder with treatment options and other services.
“I want Hope One to be a gateway to bring someone into the system (of recovery) because if we don’t also provide follow-up care, we’re not doing much for them,” Sheriff Eric Scheffler said. “Hope One is really going to be out there, and I truly believe we’ll save people’s lives.”
The Atlantic County van will be operated by the county sheriff’s Community Services Unit and staffed with, at minimum, an officer, licensed clinician and a certified peer recovery specialist. More experts in addiction, mental health and social services will also be on site.
Counties throughout the state adopted the Hope One mobile van mission after Morris County Sheriff’s Office started the first one in April 2017 to better address the opioid epidemic.
About 1,784 people have died this year from overdoses, according to state statistics, including 102 in Atlantic County. Total deaths are expected to eclipse deaths recorded in 2016, the most recent year of available data.
The Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office, in partnership with county prevention and treatment organizations, rolled out its Hope One mobile van in late June. Services are operational, but the Prosecutor’s Office continues to work on renovating the donated van.
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Scheffler said he, Chief Tim Reed and others got inspired by the success of Morris County’s inaugural program and wanted to implement the idea in Atlantic County with partners such as AtlantiCare, Join Together Atlantic County, Mental Health Association in Atlantic County, Shore Medical Center and South Jersey AIDS Alliance.
Other partnered organizations and sponsors include Atlantic Prevention Resources, Banyan Treatment Center, Enlightened Solutions, the Hansen Foundation, Helping Hand Behavioral Health, Legacy Treatment Services, Maryville Addiction Treatment Center, the Parker Family, Recovery Centers of America, Seabrook, Serenity Estates, Stop the Heroin and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Mobile staff will communicate with treatment facilities to track available beds so that they can make immediate referrals for people who want to enter treatment for a substance-use disorder, officials said.
Narcan kits and training also will be available to family, friends or anyone who may come in contact with someone struggling with an opioid-use disorder.
Bob Zlotnick, executive director of Atlantic Prevention Resources, said the van is a great way to directly reach people who need help, especially those in more remote parts of the county, and an opportunity to assess where they are at.
Treatment experts with the nonprofit will conduct in-person intake screenings on site to see what level of individualized treatment or support is most appropriate for each person.
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Scheffler said the goal is to have the van go to sites throughout the county starting in September about twice a week, and eventually offer other services that can help people in recovery, like obtaining health insurance, housing or identification.
“We’re going to take all these partners and their resources and put them all out on the street,” he said. “I want to go to the hot spots, and we’re already looking at maps where overdoses and sales of illegal drugs are high. That’s where people are, that’s where people need help.”
For more information about Hope One events and upcoming locations, see hopeoneac.com.