In a continued effort to curb the drug epidemic wreaking havoc in the community and help those suffering from substance abuse disorder, Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer is unveiling two new initiatives (Blue Hope and Operation Helping Hand) to help turn the tide.

The Blue HART program introduced by the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office in 2017, (after being known briefly as HARP which stood for Heroin Addiction Response Program) and allows those struggling with substance abuse disorder to turn themselves into police and possible avoid charges in exchange for treatment, has been renamed BLUE HOPE.

It has also been expanded to include a collaboration with the Ocean County Health Department.

“I have long considered heroin and opioid abuse to be a public health crisis," Prosecutor Billhimer said. "The Ocean County Health Department’s Department of Substance Abuse, Addiction and Opioid Dependency will serve as our partner in the administration of BLUE HOPE. This partnership will allow us to collectively streamline programs for those with substance use disorder in Ocean County. Our participating local police departments will continue as a first point of contact for Ocean County residents that are in need of services. These residents can report to their participating local police department and from there be directly linked to a provider/licensed agency. This collaboration for BLUE HOPE exemplifies the public health and law enforcement partnership needed to make change in our community."

Billhimer said that Blue Hope is similar to the original concept in which residents with a substance use disorder can choose to use a participating local police department to get linked to a provider/licensed agency for an evaluation.

This evaluation will help the participant assess the level of care needed and the provider/licensed agency will assist in navigating and linking the resident to treatment.

Blue Hope is not an automatic linkage to detox or inpatient services but will serve as an entry point for those individuals that are in need of services and/or treatment.

Participants in the program will start with linkage to the appropriate level of treatment such as detoxification, residential, or outpatient and will receive 12 weeks of follow up calls from their provider/licensed agency so further guidance and support can be provided.

The participant will also have the option to voluntarily sign up for recovery case management services which would include face to face and telephone calls for support.

“I'm always looking for those natural intercepts for people struggling with substance use disorder and try to get them help if we can get them help, and the proper help after a clinical assessment" Prosecutor Billhimer said. "The goal of Blue Hope is to drive down these numbers. We are still unfortunately leading the state in overdose fatalities and that's something that I personally struggle with everyday. With the help of our community partners, the police departments and the health department I think we're going to start to turn the corner."

Kim Reilly, MA, LPC, Chief of Administrative Services, Department of Substance Abuse, Addiction, and Opioid Dependency, Ocean County Health Department, says that Blue Hope also is expanded to add recovery case management.

"We know it's all about building intercepts in the community for individuals with substance abuse disorder to find access to care, it's really difficult to navigate how to get into treatment," Reilly said. "Anything we can do for Ocean County to build those intercepts, even though it seems unlikely that somebody would want to respond to a police department, we've actually seen a lot of success with individuals showing up and asking for help."

Reilly says people will now be better connected to a behavioral health agency who will conduct an evaluation to determine the proper care for the individual.

"There has to be an assessment, we have to see what level of care is appropriate and we want to make sure that everything we do is clinically driven," Reilly said. "Once the assessment takes place, navigation will occur through these licensed professionals. Individuals will now have the ability to be with certified peer specialists throughout weeks and months to help them continue to navigate their road to recovery which really wasn't there before."

All providers/licensed agencies will perform the evaluation, telephone calls, and offer optional recovery face to face visits with licensed staff and certified recovery case managers.

Here is the list of participating local police departments with their affiliated provider/licensed agency and the days and times prospective participants may access services:

  • Barnegat Police Department, Tuesday 9 am - 4pm, Ocean Mental Health Services of NJ, 712 East By Avenue in Manahawkin.
  • Lacey Police Department, Tuesday 9 am - 4pm, Ocean Mental Health Services of NJ, 712 East By Avenue in Manahawkin.
  • Lakewood Police Department, Tuesday 10 am - 2 pm, Turning Point, 101 Prospect Street in Lakewood.
  • Little Egg Harbor Police Department, Tuesday 9 am - 4pm, Ocean Mental Health Services of NJ, 712 East By Avenue in Manahawkin.
  • Ocean Gate Police Department, Wednesday 9 am - 4 pm, Ocean Mental Health Services of NJ, 36 West Water Street in Toms River.
  • Ocean Township Police Department,Tuesday 9 am - 4pm, Ocean Mental Health Services of NJ, 712 East By Avenue in Manahawkin.
  • Point Pleasant Borough Police Department, Tuesday 9 am - 4 pm, Preferred Behavioral Health of NJ, 700 Airport Road in Lakewood.
  • Stafford Police Department,Tuesday 9 am - 4pm, Ocean Mental Health Services of NJ, 712 East By Avenue in Manahawkin.
  • Surf City Police Department,Tuesday 9 am - 4pm, Ocean Mental Health Services of NJ, 712 East By Avenue in Manahawkin.
  • South Toms River Police Department, Wednesday 9 am - 4 pm, Ocean Mental Health Services of NJ, 36 West Water Street in Toms River.
  • Manchester Police Department, Wednesday 9 am - 4 pm, Integrity House, 310 Main Street in Toms River.
  • Pine Beach Police Department, Wednesday 9 am - 4 pm, Ocean Mental Health Services of NJ, 36 West Water Street in Toms River.
  • Toms River Police Department, Wednesday 9 am - 4 pm, Ocean Mental Health Services of NJ, 36 West Water Street in Toms River.
  • Brick Police Department, Thursday 9 am - 4 pm, Preferred Behavioral Health of NJ, 700 Airport Road in Lakewood.
  • Jackson Police Department, Thursday 9 am - 4 pm, Ocean Mental Health Services of NJ, 35 Beaverson Boulevard in Brick.

“I am proud that approximately half of all of our local police departments will be BLUE HOPE police departments," Billhimer said. "I am hopeful to have every police department in Ocean County participate in BLUE HOPE by the end of 2021."

OCEAN COUNTY HELPING HAND

In an effort to prevent low level and repeat drug offenders in municipal court from continuing a downward spiral, Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer has unveiled a program designed to identify and assist those individuals struggling with substance use disorder called Ocean County Helping Hand.

“Ocean County Helping Hand is made possible by a grant from the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the New Jersey Coordinator for Addiction Responses and Enforcement Strategies. The grant allows for some latitude in how we utilize our resources," Billhimer said.

Through OCHH defendants charged with controlled dangerous substance related offenses, such as minor possessory and paraphernalia type offenses, are screened for potential substance abuse disorder to determine what level of a treatment program they may need.

"We noticed that there's a segment of the population that gets into trouble but not enough trouble to end up in Superior Court and be availed services that would be provided through probation," Prosecutor Billhimer said. "There's a segment of the population that bounces around the municipal courts and municipal court judges see frequent flyers in different courts and we were looking to try and get to those people."

That led to OCHH which is set up to provide these individuals with services and access to treatment similar to the design of Blue Hope but taking place in the municipal court itself.

A pilot program is already underway in the Toms River Municipal Court with the cooperation of the TRMC staff.

"We get an advanced copy of the calendar and we try to identify individuals that may need to be offered treatment," Billhimer said. "We set up in Toms River Municipal Court with a case worker, a certified clinician from Ocean Mental Health and two people from the prosecutors office and we engage that person and discuss whether they need treatment and whether they need access to treatment. If they successfully, after an assessment, complete the program there's a chance the municipal court charges may be dismissed."

It's a voluntary program and an option for these defendants not a mandated choice, but an intervening helping hand to steer them away from future trouble.

The option for these individuals in some cases is go to rehab or go to jail and perhaps pay a fine as well.

"It's absolutely an alternative and the judge may make that assessment too. The judge may look at the calendar and say 'this persons is here for a drug offense, I've seen him in other courts. There's people right outside, why don't you go talk to them, and then if you're not interested come back and see me and we'll dispose of your case in the normal fashion whether by trial or by plea," Billhimer said. "It gives people an opportunity to be informed about what's out there and what kind of treatment is out there. If they want the help, we want to provide it for them."

Billhimer said that in addition to linking individuals with care, OCHH has the ability to provide assistance in various manners including but not limited to occupational training, housing and transportation assistance, family support services and Naloxone training.

During the pilot phase, OCHH accepted nineteen defendants who were screened and referred for services and/or treatment.

These defendants will continue to be monitored by the OCPO team for up to twelve months.

Any defendant interested in learning more about the treatment services of the OCHH program can call 732-929-2027.

“In the spring of 2020, we will be incorporating a mobile outreach van in an effort to reach more individuals and/or their families struggling with substance use disorder. The mobile outreach van will be equipped with office seating, Wi-Fi and interior and exterior video monitors to display resource and educational information," Billhimer said. "We will continue to explore natural intersections between law enforcement and those individuals struggling from substance use disorder."

More Jersey Shore News:

Enter your number to get our free mobile app