It's one of the most critical days of the year that's International Overdose Awareness Day which is on Wednesday, because it has helped and will continue to save lives.

In Ocean County, the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office and Bright Harbor Healthcare are teaming up to put together two resource events for all members of the community, even if you're not directly impacted by the drug epidemic, to learn more about what's happening and how you can help others and seek out help if needed.

There are a number of programs and agencies dedicated to helping with prevention and recovery, but it's incumbent on each one of us to team together to do our part in that very same effort.

"We've really all been working wonderfully together to make sure that we're trying to provide everything that people need to get well, stay well, find sobriety, but, I think one of the pieces that we've tapped into that we've really been working on the past few years a lot more closely is that it's not just enough to open a storefront, to have a front door for people to walk into to ask for help, we need to start bringing it to them out in the community and really meeting them where they're at, and then also meeting the people who are impacted," Meghan Corrigan, Director of Marketing and Development with Bright Harbor Healthcare, tells Townsquare Media News.

It's not just being there for and with people looking for or in need of recovery, but everyone around them as well.

Ocean County Prosecutors Office. (Vin Ebenau, Townsquare Media NJ)
Ocean County Prosecutors Office. (Vin Ebenau, Townsquare Media NJ)

"It's not just the person struggling with the addiction or substance use problem, it's really impacting our entire community, their friends, their families, their loved ones, so, we're really trying to take a look at -- let's get out into the community, let's bring information to people who need it, physically where they are at, and let's even hold their hand through the process," Corrigan said. "People aren't ready to walk through the front door of a treatment program yet but maybe we can start building connections and relationships and hold their hand through that process until that day that they are ready to walk through that front door and get some treatment."

When someone gets to a point where they realize they need help, it isn't always easy to ask for it, or sometimes people just have trouble breaking the cycle of addiction.

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"It's not a one size fits all approach, it's not you have to do everything on this checklist to get well and get better, it's let's talk about what can you do right now," Corrigan said. "That could even just mean having a conversation with a recovery coach."

There are challenges for everyone in our Ocean County communities involved in trying to curb the cycle of addiction and to help people really struggling find recovery and get well.

Photo: Shawn Michaels
Photo: Shawn Michaels

"I think the obstacle for us as a law enforcement agency is gaining the trust from someone who we would like to engage and offer a diversion program to, for them to see us as an outreach or in a different face than they usually see us as a law enforcement agency," Ocean County Prosecutor's Office Detective Sergeant Melissa Rose tells Townsquare Media News. "A challenge for us is -- as much as we're trying to do different things and create different programs, I think it's just hard for the community to see us that way."

There are many cases all the time where the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office steps in as they see someone continuing to be arrested for various drug related charges and tries to help them find recovery.

"Through 'Operation Helping Hand', a state grant from the Attorney General's Office, and through the support of Prosecutor (Bradley) Billhimer, we've created some programs and one of them is a municipal court diversion program," Sgt. Rose said. "When we're seeing the same person on the court calendar, and we're like well. this guy, I think what he needs is help, and we try and have that conversation where we reach out to the court, reach out to the defense attorney and we say we'd love for you to have a conversation with your client, because we actually have a program that's going to help them because I don't think the problem here is that he's a criminal, I think he just doesn't know how to get himself out of addiction."

The diversion court program is currently being piloted in Toms River Township and in Berkeley Township.

Ocean County Courthouse (Google Maps)
Ocean County Courthouse (Google Maps)

In addition to helping people find recovery, the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office remains vigilant in working to prevent the flow of drugs like Heroin, Fentanyl, and Meth into and around our communities.

"The numbers are still pretty high but I'd like to say that we do have a handle on it in the respect that we continue to work together to say that based on these numbers, either consistent or rising, how can we create something new, what can we do next because what we've been doing has been beneficial but if we can't necessarily control the influx of the drugs, at the rate that it's coming in, what can we do then as a community, as a law enforcement agency, as a health care provider," Sgt. Rose said. "I think Overdose Awareness Day, even though Ocean County has done a great job with being aware of what we're dealing with -- specifically Prosecutor Billhimer and the program's he's created -- I think August 31 is just a day to be intentional and have  engagement with the community, get out on the street, and talk about it."

There are two community events planned by the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office and Bright Harbor Healthcare for Overdose Awareness Day on Wednesday -- at the Ocean County Library in Toms River from 9:00 am - 12:00 pm and in Manchester from 1:00 pm - 4:00 pm in front of the Stop and Shop on Lacey Road in the Whiting section of the township, and, again, this is for every one.

"It's anybody who just has questions, who needs more education -- one, on the subject matter, and, two, what is Bright Harbor Healthcare doing, what is the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office doing -- can I talk to you in person, I have a follow up question -- so, that's why we're going to be out there," Sgt. Rose said. "It's about being intentional, we want to engage the community. We'll have our outreach van there and they're be an office set up in the outreach van and Bright Harbor Healthcare will have their staff there to talk to someone one-on-one with privacy -- the Prosecutor's Office will be talking about our programs."

You can listen to the full interview conversation about Overdose Awareness Day with Ocean County Prosecutor's Office Detective Sergeant Melissa Rose and Meghan Corrigan, Director of Marketing and Development with Bright Harbor Healthcare, right here.

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