Members of the public are being invited to tune in for a virtual presentation by members of the Union County Prosecutor’s Office and Prevention Links later this week, with representatives from both groups set to profile the Operation Helping Hand 24/7/365 (OHH 24/7/365) substance misuse mitigation program they jointly run.
The presentation is scheduled for 3:30-4:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 20; registration is free and available online at us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_1IFoBbvqTOWxSPWsajda4Q
The Operation Helping Hand concept was pioneered by current New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal in 2016, when he served as Bergen County Prosecutor. Initially, it involved weeklong operations during which law enforcement officers would target individuals purchasing opioids or other narcotics at open-air drug markets. When these individuals were arrested and brought in for processing on narcotics possession charges, recovery specialists and other healthcare partners were waiting to seek to connect them with treatment and recovery services.
As Attorney General, Grewal has since expanded the program to reach every county in the state, and Union County in January 2020 became the first county in New Jersey to convert the program to a round-the-clock model thanks to the generous support of the Governor’s Office, the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety, and the Union County Board of Commissioners and Union County Police Chiefs Association. As such, to this day, any time an individual is arrested in Union County for a low-level opioid offense, he or she is immediately offered access to free recovery services through Prevention Links and the arresting officer; the program also operates a continuously manned hotline, 1-855-825-3275, which residents can call at any time to begin their recovery journey.
During Thursday’s seminar, presenters will share information about identifying opioid use in loved ones, accessing recovery support services throughout Union County, and COVID-19’s impact on substance use and recovery services. Additionally, an Operation Helping Hand participant will share a firsthand account of enrolling in the program.
Speakers during the presentation will include acting Union County Prosecutor Lyndsay V. Ruotolo, Prosecutor’s Office Capt. Gary Webb and Sgt. Nicholas Veltre of the Major Crimes Division, and Prevention Links Director of Recovery Support Sabrina Sabater and Recovery Engagement Manager Philip Brunke.
Supplementing the round-the-clock program model, a “pop-up” OHH 24/7/365 event was held in Union County for the first time earlier this month on Third Street in downtown Elizabeth. The event followed a joint announcement by Prosecutor Ruotolo and Acting United States Attorney Rachael A. Honig that four Elizabeth residents were recently placed under federal arrest for their roles in conspiracies to distribute and possess with intent to distribute heroin and fentanyl.
Seizing on the unique opportunity, the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, Elizabeth Police Department, and Prevention Links hosted the OHH 24/7/365 pop-up event in the very area that was previously being used to conduct open-air narcotics transactions. During the four-hour operation, 25 county residents engaged with recovery specialists from Prevention Links regarding the services provided through OHH 24/7/365. The Union County Prosecutor’s Office, Elizabeth Police Department, and Prevention Links intend to maintain a presence in the neighborhood.
OHH 24/7/365, and other programs geared toward addressing the opioid epidemic, have been bolstered by grant funding obtained from state and county government. Specifically, the Prosecutor’s Office was initially awarded $62,500 from the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety’s 2019 Overdose Data to Action Operation Helping Hand Grant. The Prosecutor’s Office was also the recipient of $100,000 in grant funding through Governor Phil Murphy’s Operation Helping Hand Grant.
The acceptance of these blocks of grant funding was approved by the Union County Board of Commissioners and County Manager Edward T. Oatman. In addition, the Commissioners also dedicated $110,000 in direct county funding to Prevention Links for the expansion of Operation Helping Hand in 2020.
For more information on Union County’s Operation Helping Hand 24/7/365, or to learn more about beginning your recovery journey, please visit: ucnj.org/prosecutor/initiatives/operation-helping-hand-24-7-365/
For more information about Thursday’s virtual presentation, email UCPOoutreach@ucnj.org