ELIZABETH, NJ — Matthew T. Toriello’s opioid addiction followed a pattern that has become too common.

To ease pain from a back injury, Toriello started taking a prescription painkiller six-and-a-half years ago, his father, John Toriello, said. It led to an opioid addiction that in June 2019 killed the 34-year-old Westfield man.

“He was fine, and then all of a sudden he took something that had fentanyl in it, and that’s how he died,” said Toriello’s mother, Marilyn. “He died in our yard.”

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Matthew Toriello was among more than 500 people in Union County to have died due to a drug overdose in the past five years, officials said at a news conference in Elizabeth Tuesday, where authorities announced plans to expand an addiction intervention program that offers treatment services to people arrested for low level drug possession offenses involving heroin and other opioids.

“We in law enforcement recognize that while we continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute those who profit from poisoning the people we serve, we must do more in our fight to save the lives of those who have fallen prey to addiction,” said Union County acting Prosecutor Lyndsay Ruotolo. “Operation Helping Hand 24/7/365 is our effort to do more.”

The program will now have law enforcement offer people accused of low-level drug offenses the option to meet face-to-face with a peer recovery coach from Prevention Links at the time of their arrest, Ruotolo said.

Obituary: Matthew T. Toriello, 34, of Westfield

Matthew Toriello had been through rehab twice and was sober for nine months prior to his overdose death, said his father, who recognizes the importance of intervention services at the time of an arrest.

“What we’ve seen is that it is very, very difficult for someone who is an addict to seek the help that they need, and it’s only at points like this when you get an arrest or are at some other truly low point that you suddenly reassess,” John Toriello said.

Union County will be the first in the state to offer the intervention services round-the-clock, officials said.

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State Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal saw a similar version of the program roll out in Bergen County, where he previously served as the county’s prosecutor. Grewal described a paradigm shift in law enforcement’s handling of drug cases.

“It wasn’t about how many people were locked up arrested coming back from Paterson with heroin. It was about how many people did you get into treatment today,” Grewal said.

The program’s expansion in Union County, officials said, is being funded with a $62,500 grant from the state Department of Law and Public Safety and $100,000 in grant funding from the governor’s Operation Helping Hand Grant, monies that were approved by the freeholder board.

The freeholders have also dedicated $110,000 in county monies to Prevention Links to expand the Operation Helping Hands Program this year, officials said. State, county and local law enforcement officials were among those in attendance at Tuesday’s news conference.

“Our greatest strength — the most powerful tool we have in addressing any problem — is coming together,” Ruotolo said. “The opioid epidemic is too great for any one agency to address alone.”

Email Matt Kadosh at mkadosh@tapinto.net | Twitter: @MattKadosh

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