This nation finds itself in the midst of a public health crisis, and the Union County community has not been spared. In the past five years – in this county – more than five hundred of our friends and neighbors have lost their lives to the opioid epidemic. More than five hundred lives lost, and countless others shattered by the devastation caused when addiction ravages the life of a loved one. Law enforcement has been on the frontline of this crisis, realizing early on that this was not something that we could simply arrest our way out of. Instead, we as a local law enforcement community have adapted and created innovative ways to address the problem.
In 2018, under the visionary leadership of Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, Union County joined five other counties in this state in implementing Operation Helping Hand, a five-day law enforcement sweep geared toward linking those arrested for possessory level opioid offenses with recovery services at the time of arrest. Using the model established by General Grewal when he served as the Bergen County Prosecutor, the Union County Prosecutor’s Office partnered with Prevention Links, the Union County Police Department, and law enforcement officers from the County’s many departments, to bring help to more than a hundred people in just one week. That program has continued to bring recovery assistance to members of the Union County community in the years since, with day-long Operation Helping Hand sweeps occurring at least once a month in Union County.
It has been a priority of this administration to expand upon the already incredible efforts of the Union County law enforcement community in the area of addiction intervention. And on January 28, 2020, we announce that Operation Helping Hand will be available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty-five days a year.
Through our partnership with Prevention Links, with the endorsement of the Union County Police Chiefs’ Association, the support of our County Manager Edward T. Oatman, buy-in from our law enforcement officers across this County, and thanks to the generosity of Governor Phil Murphy, the Department of Law and Public Safety, and the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders, every person arrested for a possessory level opioid offense in Union County is offered in-person recovery assistance at the time of arrest.