Union County launches C.L.E.A.R. program to combat substance abuse

Citizens of Union County battling substance abuse or addiction will be eligible to surrender narcotics without being arrested and gain access to recovery services free of charge under a new initiative being launched this week by the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders, Prevention Links, and the County Sheriff’s Office, Police Department, and Prosecutor’s Office.

The Community Law Enforcement Addiction Recovery (C.L.E.A.R.) program will be available to members of the public from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Union County Sheriff’s Office, basement level of 27 Elizabethtown Plaza in Elizabeth, and at Union County Police Department headquarters, 300 North Avenue East in Westfield.

Those seeking to participate in the program will be screened for eligibility by members of law enforcement and permitted to surrender illegal drugs and paraphernalia for personal use without fear of arrest, prosecution, or questioning. Those excluded from participation will include citizens with active warrants or those previously convicted of certain serious indictable offenses.

Participants will be connected with Prevention Links-trained certified recovery specialists, who will serve as personal guides and mentors for those seeking to overcome their addiction.

“This is an essential component of our mission to provide support to individuals and family members seeking assistance accessing treatment and recovery services,” said Pamela Capaci, CEO of Prevention Links.

The C.L.E.A.R. initiative is based on a model first established by the Gloucester Police Department in Massachusetts and later adopted by the Sussex County Prosecutor’s Office and Newton Police Department. The County Freeholder Board dedicated $150,000 in County funding for inpatient addiction treatment beds being provided to participants this year and also approved the use of $17,000 in Prosecutor’s Office forfeiture funds.

The C.L.E.A.R. model can also be adopted by individual municipal police departments.

“There is an urgent need to get more of those who suffer from opioid addiction to help, and Operation C.L.E.A.R. is certainly a step in the right direction,” Freeholder Chairman Bruce H. Bergen said.

“For far too long, law enforcement has approached this issue from one angle only, seeking to go after and arrest those who sell, buy, and use drugs,” Union County Sheriff Joseph P. Cryan said. “Considering the scope and depth of the heroin and opioid abuse epidemic as it exists today, both here in Union County and nationwide, it’s beyond obvious that we need to fundamentally change that attitude. We want those affected by this to be able to look to us for help.”

At least 89 people died from fatal drug overdoses in Union County last year, more than any year since the start of the decade. Police departments in Union County began deploying the lifesaving overdose-reversal drug naloxone in July 2014, with more than 300 total deployments recorded to date.

“For those who have been arrested and charged with drug-related crimes, Drug Court offers a path to rehabilitation. For those who suffer a medical emergency due to an overdose, there is our Union County Opioid Response Initiative, through which they are connected to addiction recovery specialists at our local hospitals. But for those who have yet to get to that point, the C.L.E.A.R. program offers a promising game plan for anyone battling addiction,” acting Union County Prosecutor Grace H. Park said. “Through this new program, we in law enforcement can help those in need who have not yet entered the criminal justice system.”