WEST ORANGE, NJ — As communities across the country continue to battle the opioid crisis, West Orange is among those taking a proactive, innovative approach to solving it: collaboration.

The approach is known as Police, Treatment and Community Collaborative (PTACC), where law enforcement and behavioral health entities join forces with the community to help addicts overcome their illness instead of immediately putting them behind bars.

“It’s a unique time,” said Jac Charlier, the National Director for Justice Initiatives at the Center for Health and Justice at TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities). “It’s a national movement.”

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More than 100 members of law enforcement, the judicial system, hospitals, behavioral health and the community met on Wednesday at the Highlawn Pavilion in West Orange to hear about the latest model in how to combat the opioid crisis. The event was sponsored by Ammon Labs, a drug testing laboratory based in Linden that is also a founding partner of PTACC.

At a local level, West Orange has an innovative volunteer program that will guarantee help to those who want it. Police Chief James Abbott addressed the crowd about how West Orange has made inroads into helping battle the crisis.

In collaboration with Saint Barnabas Medical Center and Integrity House and several other partners, tthe West Orange Police Department (WOPD) launched Operation Heroin-Opiate Prevention Effort (HOPE) in late 2016 as a way to offer a safe place for those suffering from addiction to seek help and get treatment. The voluntary program is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week at the WOPD, located at 60 Main Street in downtown West Orange, and at any substation while its open.

According to Abbott, anyone can walk in the front doors, pick up the phone and ask for help, and police will accept drugs and paraphernalia without any questions asked or charges. Once inside, police will check for outstanding warrants and, if cleared, they will help the individual enter into a detox at Saint Barnabas Medical Center if needed or into Integrity House to begin treatment.

“We need a paradigm shift in how law enforcement looks at addicts,” Abbott said while addressing the crowd on Wednesday. “They are not just junkies, they are people.”

The program in West Orange is modeled after programs that began in Gloucester, Mass. and Scarborough, ME.

Abbott said that in West Orange, 35 people have sought help voluntarily through Operation HOPE.

“If someone comes in and says, ‘I am here on my own, I need help,’ then we help them,” he said.

For more information about the program, visit http://operationhopenj.org/.

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