SPARTA, NJ – The CLEAR program celebrated its third year with a luncheon at the Mohawk House to thank participants, recognize supporters and discuss the future.

The program Community, Law Enforcement, Addiction, Recovery or CLEAR in Sussex County brings together local police, medical staff and trained recovery coaches to help people who are struggling with drug addiction. 

The program allows people to request treatment without fear of arrest or prosecution.  Help is available for people whether they ask in the police station, the hospital or jail. 

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Newton Chief Michael Richards read a letter from a parent of an overdose victim who had been saved by Newton Lt. Tossi. 

The CLEAR program came to Sussex County with the hope of getting to address the issue of drug addiction before it is an overdose or incarceration.

“Many who need help don’t get it,” Richards said.  “We are working to change the way community members view addicts and the way law enforcement officers interact with people who have addictions.”

The Sussex County program brings together public and private resources to address the problem exemplified by having the same people need to be resuscitated by Narcan several times, Richards said. 

New Jersey Drug Enforcement Assistant Special Agent in Charge Christopher Jakim congratulated the organizers.  “Recovery coaches are impacting lives and families,” he said. “I am inspired by the success and recognize the people who support this program.”

Senator Steve Oroho talked about the first meeting to create CLEAR and how far they have come to get rid of the stigma of addiction and get people help.

“Education is the important part,” Oroho said.  “You all do tremendous work.”

Prosecutor Francis Koch was introduced as the “third name that always gets mentioned with Becky [Carlson] and Mike [Richards.]”  Koch explained CLEAR started in Newton, spread to nine towns and is now is all towns in the county.

“It is not just reactive but proactive,” Koch said.  The program is built on one created by Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, according to Koch.  “Helping Hand” began with recovery coaches in Newark.  It expanded to Passaic, Bergen, Morris and Sussex County.  Now “all 21 counties are involved with the grant to get CLEAR,” Koch said.

Koch explained the program involves many paths to getting help.  They have gone door to door with recovery coaches to find people at risk for addiction. They had a table at the Farm and Horse Show and recovery coaches have been sent to municipal courts.

The program has applied for funds to create a mobile van to go to events, to bring the message “not only is recovery possible it is doable and help is available.”

U.S. Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill was represented at the event by Kelly Doucette.  Doucette read a proclamation recognizing CLEAR in Sussex County as the “first police assisted addition recovery initiative, positively impacting the community by reducing the stigma of addiction, providing access to treatment and recovery support without fear of arrest or prosecution.”

Sherrill’s proclamation also recognized the “public – private partnership demonstrating the power of collaboration and community partnerships between law enforcement, healthcare providers, social service organizations and elected officials in combating the opioid use epidemic.”

Christopher Jakim of CARES said, “It is visionary what you are doing.” He spoke of two programs the DEA is working on Overdose Response teams and evaluating the impact of trauma on children, as a predictor of drug use later in life.

Looking at the epidemic of overdoses, “we are in unchartered territory,” Jakim said.  They are looking to bring data and experience to work together with other agencies to affect change.  They are working on policy, funding and doing a social autopsy addressing the problem from many angles.

“How can we bring this good thing to the next level,” Jakim said. “How can we adapt what we do in four counties to bring it to all counties.”

He announced the Center for Disease Control had awarded the Department of Health grant money to provide them with resources.

The second initiative Jakim spoke of was to look at the impact of trauma on children.  They are following research from Kaiser Permanente that has developed an Adverse Childhood Experience or ACE score as a predictor of difficulty later in life.  According to the research a child with ACE score of six or higher loses 20 years of life.

An ACE would be something like seeing a parent get arrested, having their house burn down, neglect, abuse, an adverse family environment.  Jakim said a goal for practical application of this information would be for law enforcement to notify the school that the child has had a trauma, allowing the school to intervene or take a different view on a child’s changed behavior such as acting out or fighting or withdrawal. 

 “CLEAR is not an operation or prevention but farther upstream,” Jakim said.  “You’re taking action and I applaud you.”

Katie Calvacca, herself in long term recovery since 2005, has become an important member of the CLEAR team Director Becky Carlson said. 

“What I never would have wanted an employer to know about me is what got me the job,” Calvacca said. “Recovering is more than staying sober, its about having a life we’re proud of.”

She explained the details of what the program looks like.  “We’re able to follow up and walk alongside someone in their journey.  It’s more than having people come to the police department.  It’s about going out to the community and the hospital and the jail.”

She said 21 people called for assistance from CLEAR July 2018 to June 2019.  There were 17 people who requested a recovery coach and a plan from jail, three in-house recovery trainings and 16 coaches.  From May through July 2019 there were 26 people who stopped into the recovery center and 22 agreed to a recovery plan.

Nearly 100 home visits were made, 61 people were contacted and they provide services to 12 people.  “A police officer came to their door and they responded,” Calvacca said.

In one year, 663 calls from 589 people who were being treated at Newton Medical Center, resulted in 447 recovery plans and follow up support and 289 people directly linked to treatment services, according to Calvacca.

“These are huge numbers but it’s more than numbers if people get help,” Calvacca said.

They are planting seeds, regardless of where the interaction takes place and they need to be watered and the soil needs to be tended she said.  “When individuals recover, communities recover,” Calvacca said.

Family Coach Emily said, “When we help family members it can spur someone into recovery.”  She said the difference between family support and not is tremendous.  “We help family members learn to do something different and different techniques.  If we can help people they can stand on their own.”

Carlson gave out Shining Star awards to volunteer CLEAR Family Recovery Coach Lucy Katzen, Capitol Care Clinical Director Laura Guancione and Sussex County Prosecutor Koch. 

The Mohawk House’s Steve Scro and Tony Scerbo of Scerbo Nursery were recognized for the donation they made from the sale of Christmas trees.. 

Some of the other speakers included Peer Recovery Coach Erma Ogar, Newton Medical Center President Joseph DiPaolo, Genesis Behavioral and Addiction Health Dr. Michael Gannon and Glen Vetrano.

Vetrano presented a check for $1000 on behalf of the Sussex County St. Patrick’s Day Parade.  This money represents the balance of funds from the parade which, according to Vetrano is being disbanded.  He announced the “St. Patrick’s Day Parade committee has come to an end.”

Roy shared the story of his son who struggled with substance abuse for years after experiencing a trauma.  After years of seeking help and encountering obstacles, the father credits CLEAR and Newton Police Department for his son still being alive.  A year after walking into the Newton Police Department Roy’s son is still sober and alive he said.

Thanking everyone for sharing their stories, Richards explained moving forward they would like to expand Helping Hand and do more with employers. 
“It’s about creating relationships,” Richards said.  “Passion and compassion are contagious.”

Carlson said, “Hope begins here, with the willingness to help someone else.”