BRIDGETON — Cumberland County residents may spot a purple bus with two hands reaching for each other rolling through their streets starting this month.
Law enforcement and public health officials Thursday afternoon cut the ribbon on the county’s Recovery on Wheels, or ROW, a mobile unit that aims to bring resources for addiction help to people who need it.
“The mission of Recovery on Wheels is to go to where the people who need the services are, and to provide compassionate, nonjudgmental interventions in real time,” said Melissa Niles, director of the county’s Human Services Department. “ROW seeks to address addiction as a public health issue that deserves a public health response.”
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Niles’ department, as well as the county Prosecutor’s Office, Sheriff’s Office and Health Department, collaborated with partners like Inspira Health Center to make it happen.
While national statistics show fatal overdoses are in decline, most of South Jersey is going in the opposite direction, including Cumberland County.
In 2017, there were 169 drug-related deaths in Atlantic County, 59 in Cape May County and 75 in Cumberland County, state Health Department data show. Last year, those deaths spiked in Atlantic and Cumberland counties, rising to 190 and 113, respectively. Cape May County dropped to 47.
The bus, retired early from the county Office of Aging for the project, will offer peer recovery coaches, education on the overdose-reversal drug naloxone, information on and referrals to social services, needle disposal, hepatitis A vaccinations and health screenings, among other services, officials said.
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A mobile unit is important, Niles said, because it’s a proactive way to seek out people who need help, instead of the other way around.
“Often, when a person is ready to seek substance-use treatment, the window of opportunity is open for a brief period of time,” she said. “Historically, people do not know where to go or how to access substance-use disorder services when they need it.”
Or, if they do know, they’re told to call back day after day, she said, and often “that window of opportunity has closed as they’re no longer interested, or they’re dead.”
Cumberland is the third county in South Jersey to adopt a mobile unit to help residents struggling with addiction through a partnership between law enforcement and social services.
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Both Atlantic and Cape May counties have vehicles, called Hope One, run by the Sheriff’s Office and Prosecutor’s Office, respectively. Staff set up at designated places in their county, from bus terminals to coffee shops to shopping centers, to help spread resources.
Since starting the program last August, Atlantic County’s Hope One van has referred 352 clients into treatment, trained 253 people to use naloxone, giving a free kit to each trainee, and provided 54 people with the identification needed to get into treatment, county Sheriff Eric Scheffler said.
Cape May County’s program has trained people to use and provided Narcan to 172 since fall 2018 and referred people to recovery services while helping veterans and the homeless, according to data provided by county Prosecutor Jeffrey Sutherland.
Cumberland County Sheriff Robert A. Austino said his office will take care of the maintenance, fuel and storage of the bus, as well as help dispose of drugs that are collected and provide temporary identification to get people into treatment.
County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae said the partnership makes fiscal sense.
“When mental health issues and drug abuse issues go untreated, we all as taxpayers pay a premium,” she said. “Because it’s three times as costly to deal with it through the criminal justice system and through law enforcement.”
And, she said, “it’s just the right thing to do.”