Named after St. Michael, the patron saint of police and St. Camillus, the patron saint of the sick, The Ocean County Prosecutor's Office has created The Michael Camillus Project, aimed to teach members of law enforcement about substance abuse disorder.

The program is funded through a grant from the New Jersey Attorney General's Operation Helping Hand. The project is about developing a curriculum to help educate these law enforcement officers about substance abuse disorder.

Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer said the program tries to break down the stigmas within police departments and allow officers to become drug counselors.

The 18-credit certificate of completion in addiction studies from Ocean County College is in collaboration between OCC, the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office and Ocean Mental Health. It's the first of its kind in New Jersey.

The course involves six intensive classes at OCC: two in the winter, two in the spring and two in the fall. Upon completion of the classes, the students/officers would get a certificate of completion in addiction studies from OCC. After that, they can sit for a state exam and perform clinical hours, if they choose to, in order to obtain their Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor designation.

"We're hoping this funding stays with us so we can keep doing this because I really think this is an innovative way to really try to break down the stigmas associated with addiction and substance abuse disorder," said Billhimer.

Educating law enforcement about substance abuse disorder will help both law enforcement and the community, he said. He said the project will hopefully enable these officers to start effectively battling addiction related to stigma and then drive home the importance of early intervention.

"I think this Michael Camillus project is a great example that we have police officers who are willing to do this on their own time. They're not sitting on the sidelines and hope that things get better. They're taking an active role so I think it says a lot about the commitment that law enforcement officers in Ocean County have to try and get a handle on this problem," said Billhimer.

Classes have already begun virtually on Zoom. Billhimer quipped that for many officers this is the first time they've been inside a classroom in a long time, doing homework and writing essays. After this group of 14 graduates, he hopes to get more enrolled for the next class.

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