MADISON, NJ—As trains chugged by and the last of the morning commuters hurried to board them, the HOPE ONE van’s all-volunteer staff set up coffee and doughnuts Thursday at the Madison Train Station’s main entrance on Kings Road, offering passersby a treat and a helping hand if needed.
Madison was HOPE ONE’s ninth Morris County appearance since it began offering mobile addiction and recovery resources and access to treatment for those in need.
The brainchild of Morris County Sheriff James Gannon, HOPE ONE was launched April 3 to provide easily-accessible resources to those struggling with addiction—without the negative stigma that can follow opiate users—as a “community service project to reach out and hopefully help end the (heroin) epidemic,” said Corporal Erica Valvano of the Morris County Sheriff’s Office.
Morris County has seen an upshoot of fatal opiate overdoses in recent years with 35 deaths in 2014 and 43 in 2015, according to county statistics. Last year that number increased by nearly 50 percent, with 64 deaths for 2016.
At least 23 people countywide have already been lost this year to opiates like heroin and prescription painkillers. This puts Morris County on track to exceed last year’s number in the coming months.
The Community Services Unit of the Morris County Sheriff’s Office in conjunction with the Morris County Department of Human Services, the Mental Health Association of Morris County, Morris County Prevention is Key and their Center for Addiction Recovery Education and Success (CARES) each provide a unique service for the project.
“We partnered with CARES, which can offer the addiction and recovery services; the Mental Health Association, which can provide the mental health clinician and we provide the sheriff’s officer,” said Valvano, who is the designated HOPE ONE sheriff’s officer.
HOPE ONE was previously used as a law enforcement vehicle, and was renovated using money confiscated from arrested drug dealers in Morris County, according to Valvano.
Folding tables were set up with a slew of pamphlets available for visitors who wanted to learn more about mental health, addiction, substance abuse and other social services available through HOPE ONE while they sipped coffee and enjoyed breakfast treats.
“The general public doesn’t always know what’s out there, and it’s our job to get the word out,” said Danielle Pera of the Mental Health Association of Morris County, Inc., who volunteers as HOPE ONE’s mental health clinician.
Through Pera, the Mental Health Association uses its resources to help people who may have become homeless as a result of drug addiction, and can also refer them to food pantries. CARES, another HOPE ONE partner organization, finds beds for potential patients who wish to enter a rehabilitation or detox program and offers free counseling for those seeking treatment.
“People can have a conversation with a certified peer recovery specialist that can help you navigate that whole terrain of ‘How do I get into treatment? Who do I talk to? What do I do with my insurance company?” said Alton Robin, a peer recovery specialist who is part of HOPE ONE’s volunteer staff.
“We do all that,” he said. ”We’ve taken what we do at my center in Rockaway and we’ve taken in mobile.”
Robinson is also responsible for administering Narcan kits and training available to interested HOPE ONE visitors. Narcan, also known as naloxone, is a nasally-administered drug that reverses the effects of an opiate overdose.
CVS and Walgreens now offer Narcan over the counter, particularly for people who have a close friend or relative that may use opiates, but HOPE ONE staff members like Pera and Robinson said they think people who buy Narcan at the drugstore are missing out.
“You get a kit and they say, ‘Good luck,’” Robinson said.
With HOPE ONE “you’re getting not just trained about Narcan and what the drug is, but you get tips on how to respond to an overdose,” he said. HOPE ONE staff have provided at least 18 Narcan trainings since the program began April 3, according to statistics from the Morris County Sheriff’s Office.