(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats John McKeon, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Ralph Caputo, Mila Jasey and Joann Downey that would establish law enforcement assisted addiction and recovery referral programs throughout the state was signed into law on Wednesday.
“The nation’s heroin and opioid related overdose deaths have increased dramatically in recent years. In New Jersey, alone, the overdose death rate is currently three times the national rate. Clearly more needs to be done,” said McKeon (D-Essex/Morris). “Similar programs we’ve studied have shown marked success in cultivating a safe environment where those suffering from addiction feel comfortable coming forward to seek treatment. The new law will hopefully help improve the lives of those struggling with addiction.”
“By increasing access to treatment without fear of arrest or legal action, these law enforcement assisted programs have helped a number of people suffering from substance abuse obtain the treatment they need,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Expanding this program statewide will help reach countless others who desperately need treatment.”
“It’s not easy for those struggling with addiction to come forward and ask for help,” said Caputo. “But knowing they can do so without legal repercussions has prompted more people to come forward seeking help. Based on the success we’ve seen with similar programs this is a smart move.”
“We’re at a crisis point where every effort is needed to increase access to treatment for heroin and opioid addiction,” said Jasey (D-Essex/Morris). “By pairing law enforcement departments with community professionals and volunteers, hopefully we can provide increased addiction support to those who need it most.”
“Collaborative efforts between law enforcement, community professionals, and volunteers will increase access to treatment and save more lives from opioid and heroin addiction,” Downey (D-Monmouth). “Let’s see what New Jersey can do with these programs in our communities.”
The new law requires the Director of the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services in the Department of Human Services, in consultation with the Attorney General, to prescribe regulation requirements for county and municipal law enforcement departments throughout the state to:
- establish or authorize the operation of a program within their departments;
- develop and implement guidelines for the recruitment and training of law enforcement officers, volunteers, and treatment providers to participate in the program;
- support and facilitate the linkage of law enforcement assisted addiction and recovery programs to facilities and programs that provide appropriate substance abuse recovery services and health care services;
- coordinate with law enforcement officials and program volunteers to ensure that individuals seeking to participate in the program are treated with respect, care, and compassion, and are reassured that assistance will be provided;
- establish requirements for an individual to be eligible for participation in the program; and
- develop and implement procedures for determining eligibility requirements for the program.
The new law also 1) refers to the program as a law enforcement assisted addiction and recovery referral program to reflect the fact that law enforcement will not be participating in addiction treatment; (2) requires the Director of the Division of Mental Health Services to establish procedures for maintaining the confidentiality of participants; (3) clarifies that participants may not be arrested, charged, prosecuted or convicted of possessing, using or acquiring or obtaining by fraud a controlled dangerous substance; and (4) provides that counties, municipalities and their employees will not be subject to criminal or civil liability under the bill.
All law enforcement assisted addiction and recovery referral programs would be required to comply with the provisions set forth under the new law.
The requirements are similar to requirements associated with programs that have been established in Newton and New Brunswick, New Jersey, as well as Massachusetts.
The Assembly approved the bill, 76-0, on September 15 and the Senate 38-0 on October 20.