SOMERVILLE, NJ - Somerset County has adopted a cooperative approach between its Human Services Department and Prosecutor’s Office to combat the growing abuse of opioid drugs.

At a recent Board of Freeholders’ meeting, county Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Coordinator Ivana Pareja was joined by Human Services Director Michael J. Frost and county Prosecutor Michael H. Robertson in describing the joint effort.

“The opioid crisis crosses all community borders and affects county residents from all walks of life,” said Freeholder Brian D. Levine, human services liaison. “A cooperative approach between law enforcement and human services professionals is the best way to ensure we reach as many people as possible with the help they need.”

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“Law enforcement will continue to combat the distribution of opioids in this county with the assistance of our local, state and federal partners,” said Robertson. “This crisis knows no boundaries and we will devote every resource we have available to protecting our citizens. However we cannot fight this alone – this is a community problem and therefore requires community involvement and partnerships like the one between law enforcement and human services.

Here in Somerset County, we have an excellent working relationship between law enforcement and human services and I welcome the expertise and knowledge that they provide and look forward to our continued partnership as we work together to help those suffering from the disease of addiction,” he added.

"Human tragedy related to opioid abuse is not a new phenomenon, but it has reached proportions that demand our attention in every possible way,” Frost said. “On any given day, in any given situation, the number of families affected by opioid overdose has grown to the point where it is truly heartbreaking. With a coordinated and concerted effort I am convinced we can, and will, make a meaningful difference in helping folks get the assistance they need and sticking with them through ongoing recovery."

“County leadership has created a shift in seeing substance use as a disease and recognizing the need to link mental health and substance use together,” Pareja said. “Much of the work between the Prosecutor’s Office and Department of Human Services this past year has been in developing community partnerships and increasing community awareness.”

Some of those highlights from 2017 include:

- Human Services’ first Overdose Awareness Day, with over 150 residents mourning the loss of a loved one; Freeholder Levine spoke at the event.

- Mental health first aid training for community members by Somerset County’s Municipal Alliance coordinator and training for law enforcement to educate officers on mental health and substance use by Somerset County’s Mental Health Administrator.

- Discussions with the Local Advisory Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse and Providers Advisory Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse and Municipal Alliances on how to educate and engage the community.

- Working with the RWJBarnabas Health Opiate Overdose Recovery Program to provide connections to outpatient, detox and rehab programs in the community.

- Narcan training for all Intoxicated Driver Resource Center staff. 

- Event planning for a countywide stigma-free campaign.

- Compiling a list of mental health and substance use disorders for GIS staff to upload on the county website, along with prescription drop-off box locations. The interactive medication drop-off locations map can be viewed at