ELIZABETH, NJ – The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders listened to a presentation by the Union County Community Law Enforcement Addiction Recovery pilot program (C.L.E.A.R.) during Thursday night’s agenda setting meeting. The program is intended to combat the opioid epidemic in Union County by providing addicts and their family members with easier access to treatment facilities and recovery programs.

C.L.E.A.R, presented by Sheriff Joseph Cryan, Prosecutor Grace Park, Public Safety Director Andrew Moran and Human Services Director Frank Guzzo, is hoped to help those with addiction before they overdose or get arrested.

“In this county, we had 55 overdoses last year,” Park said. “If you’re overdosing and are revived by Narcan [a drug used to block opioid receptors in the brain during an overdose], you have a recovery addiction specialist. If you’re in the criminal justice system and are arrested for a crime, you have Drug Court [a team of specialists designed to monitor a participant’s recovery]. If you’re out in the community and just want help, there’s really no resource. So that’s where C.L.E.A.R. comes in.”

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According to acting Union County Prosecutor’s Office Chief of Detectives John McCabe, there have been 23 deaths by overdose in the county as of March 2017. Elizabeth, Union and Springfield have seen six overdoses each. Plainfield and Rahway have seen two overdoses each, and Kenilworth has had one.

However, according to data by Narcan, Plainfield has seen the most Narcan deployments in 2017 with 14 deployments. Cranford followed with six deployments, and Rahway and Linden had four deployments each.

“We’re hoping that we get approval for about $17,000 to enable this pilot program, which we believe will fund about 135 responses to the sheriff’s office,” Park said.

The program plans to receive addicts and bring recovery specialists to them at locations in Westfield and Elizabeth, according to Moran. The specialists will place addicts in the appropriate treatment center, whether it’s a detox program, outpatient rehabilitation or inpatient rehabilitation.

 Officers from the county and the county sheriff’s office plan to hold a training session for the program on May 10 in Westfield and start the program on June 1, Moran said.

“This pilot program was implemented in Brick and Ocean County this year for two days a week,” Cryan said. “Seventy-four folks came in from January to March and said ‘I need help.”

Cryan added that the program has received support from Overlook Medical Center and Trinitas Regional Medical Center, and is currently working with JFK Medical Center.

Freeholder Christoper Hudak received the presentation with enthusiasm, calling it a “great, logical step.” Freeholder Linda Carter was not as happy with the current plans, claiming that Westfield and Elizabeth are not adequate locations.

“When you look at these numbers, it shows Plainfield has a higher amount [of overdoses],” Carter said. “When individuals have to go from one location to two or three towns over, they can change their mind, because of the state of mind they’re in at that point. I would like to see something closer to the Plainfield area.”

Carter also asked about education programs, particularly for county high schools.

“We will have somebody at the beginning of the school year, trained to provide presentations,” Cryan said.

Park also added that she plans to provide middle schools and high schools with tools to educate, particularly a documentary called “Chasing the Dragon,” which features opioid and prescription drug addicts who show how addiction has affected their lives.

“This is a problem in 21 municipalities and spreading like fire,” Freeholder Hudak said. “I sit here today saying that I hope you see great success with this pilot.”

The Union County Freeholders will hold a regular meeting on May 18 at 7 p.m.