ELIZABETH, NJ – Union County Sheriff Joseph Cryan, speaking at a recent meeting of business people, asked, “What do you think is the average age of a drug addict?”

“18 years old.”

“20 years old.”

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The answer, 47 years old, underscored the seriousness of the current opioid epidemic in the state. It is a widespread scourge that affects all age groups and all socio-economic classes. Cryan offered the following statistics to support that claim: 25 percent of addicts are between the ages, 20 to 29; 16 percent, between 30 to 39; 25 percent, between 40 to 49; 21 percent, between 50 to 59; 9 percent, over 60; and 4 percent, 19 years old and under.  

At the meeting, Sheriff Cryan was introducing Community Law Enforcement Addiction Recovery, C.L.E.A.R., a program sponsored by the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders in partnership with Prevention Links. It offers free recovery assistance to families and individuals wanting to recover from addiction. The participants and their families will be paired with a certified recovery specialist.

“This is a pilot program,” explained Cryan. “They can come to the Courthouse Annex with their drugs and say they are here for the C.L.E.A.R. program.”

It is an initiative that is becoming more and more essential. In Union County, the statistics tracking drug incidents have been rising at an alarming rate. Last year, at least 54 people died due to a fatal overdose in Union County, more than in any year since the start of the decade. About three years ago, police departments countywide started deploying the lifesaving overdose-reversal drug naloxone, nicknamed narcan. The number of times it was given to citizens jumped from slightly more than 60 in 2015 up to more than 150 in 2016.  The community with the highest narcan usage is Plainfield, then Cranford. Four  towns – Kenilworth, Rahway, Elizabeth and Linden – tie for  third.

The  C.L.E.A.R. program will be officially launched countywide June 1. Help will be available at the Union County Sheriff’s Office located within the New Annex Courthouse basement level, 2 Cherry Street, Elizabeth; or the Union County Police Department Headquarters, 300 North Avenue East, Westfield. The number is 1-855-825-3275.