NEW JERSEY – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and the New Jersey Coordinator for Addiction Responses and Enforcement Strategies (“NJ CARES”) last week announced that over $2 million in state funds will be dedicated to continuing and expanding “Operation Helping Hand,” a diversion program in which law enforcement officers proactively connect individuals suffering from opioid addiction with treatment and/or recovery support services, including by making funds available to NJ Transit to establish an Operation Helping Hand program for the first time in key rail and bus transit hubs across the state.
Drawn from the $100 million that the Murphy Administration committed to combatting the opioid epidemic in FY2021, $1.9 million of the funding announced today will be made available to the 21 counties, each of which is running its own Operation Helping Hand program, while $200,000 will be made available to the state-owned public transportation system to expand and enhance its law enforcement-led outreach efforts in key rail and bus transit hubs throughout the state.
“Transit hubs have long been a refuge for individuals struggling with substance use disorders, mental health conditions, and homelessness, which often go hand-in-hand,” Grewal said. “The Operation Helping Hand grant funding we are announcing today demonstrates our commitment to helping these individuals get the help they need. Each new Operation Helping Hand partnership we forge puts more boots on the ground in our battle to end the addiction epidemic in New Jersey.”
The state funding announced today will allow NJ Transit for the first time to establish an Operation Helping Hand program in five designated transit hubs, and outlying transit areas as needed. The designated hubs were chosen based on NJ Transit intelligence and statewide overdose data, and include:
- Newark Penn Station (Newark)
- Walter Rand Transportation Center (Camden)
- Atlantic City Bus Terminal (Atlantic City)
- Trenton Transit Station (Trenton)
- Hoboken Transit Station (Hoboken)
Attorney General Grewal developed Operation Helping Hand as a new way to combat opioid addiction in Bergen County while serving as the County Prosecutor in 2016. Under his leadership as Attorney General, the first multi-county Operation Helping Hand initiative was launched in five counties in June 2018. Through the use of federal and state funding, the Operation Helping Hand programs have now been established in all 21 counties in the state as of September 2019.
Counties are given flexibility to adapt the Operation Helping Hand strategy to meet local needs, as long as their programs rely on relationships with community healthcare partners and incorporate proactive outreach by law enforcement officers to serve as a point of entry for treatment and/or recovery support services.
Operation Helping Hand programs throughout the state have been credited with linking hundreds of individuals with services to address drug addiction, including throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Despite limits on face-to-face interactions due to COVID-19, our county Operation Helping Hand programs helped ensure that addiction recovery services remained accessible to individuals hit hardest by the stress and isolation of the pandemic,” said Sharon M. Joyce, Director of NJ CARES. “By continuing to expand the Operation Helping Hand program into areas of need – as we are doing through the NJ Transit grant – we are growing and strengthening the community partnerships that serve as the lifeblood of this program.”
Like the counties, NJ Transit will be given the opportunity to adapt the Operation Helping Hand model to meet the unique circumstances of the transit hubs, so long as it involves NJ Transit officers playing an active role in identifying individuals with substance use disorders and—together with community partners—serving as a point of entry for treatment and/or recovery support services.
The funding for both the county and NJ Transit programs is for a 12-month period from September 1, 2021 through August 31, 2022.