UNION COUNTY, NJ — Officials have launched a new program — Helping Hands 365 — that features a 24/7 hotline connecting addicts with peers who have achieved sobriety in an effort to reduce opioid-related overdoses in the county. More than 130 county residents died of such overdoses in 2018.
Prevention Links, a local nonprofit organization that advocates for those battling substance abuse, will administer the county-funded program, connecting addicts with the treatment resources they need.
“We’re looking to make recovery specialists available to help people within the community that are struggling with substance abuse issues to help them be connected to treatment or community-based support,” Morgan Thompson, executive director for Prevention Links, said in a July 3 phone interview.
An addict who calls the hotline will be linked to a peer recovery specialist who will provide information about various programs for substance abuse and also offer emotional support.
“It’s truly a combination of emotional support and resources because, while we hope that folks are ready for treatment, it may take several weeks — or even months — for people to be ready to take that step,” Thompson said.
On-call coverage will be provided at designated locations in communities with the greatest rates of overdose — such as Cranford, Elizabeth, Linden, Rahway and Union — between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 24 hours per day between the hours of 8 p.m. Thursday through 8 p.m. on Sunday. Most overdoses occur during the weekend, according to Thompson.
Peer recovery specialists go through 48 hours of training through Prevention Links, Thompson said, to learn how to interact with callers and about all the available resources within the county. Those who call the hotline will have the option to receive help for six months, during which time they will meet with their peer recovery specialist on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.
“The peer recovery specialists are trained to leverage their personal experiences, build trust, and help each individual connect with resources that enable them to turn their lives around,” Freeholder Chris Hudak said in a recent press release from the county.
Helping Hands 365 also includes training for law enforcement so that individuals may be referred by law enforcement to the program.
Thompson said the training for officers is similar to a program they run through the Union County Prosecutor’s Office called “Operation Helping Hand,” a weeklong program that provides a staff of recovery coaches to speak with people who are either arrested for drug-related charges or who walk in to receive assistance.
The last time the program ran, from May 13 to 17, more than 140 addicts were connected with recovery specialists and more than 80 percent of them accepted treatment, according to Thompson.
“Law enforcement officers encounter individuals with substance abuse disorders all of the time so we’re going to provide them training on how to engage people that they know are struggling before they are arrested,” Thompson said.
Prevention Links also will be conducting outreach and educating local community leaders, allowing specialists to respond to referrals and visit those seeking help in a familiar environment, including places of worship, community centers, social clubs and nonprofit agencies around the county.
“Every member of the community can really be part of the solution with a program like this,” Thompson said.
Thompson told LocalSource that family and friends of people struggling with drug addiction are also encouraged to call the Helping Hands 365 hotline. Callers will be provided with information on how to help an addict; where to obtain Narcan, the brand name for the drug naloxone, which treats opioid overdose; and can speak with the hotline’s family support specialist.
“We can provide family members and loved ones not only resources, but also strategies to keep their loved ones safe and tips on effective communication,” she said.
Prevention Links has been located in Roselle for more than 50 years. Thompson said that approximately seven years ago the organization started to see a need for “more recovery focused programming” in the county. That’s when Prevention Links opened the Raymond Lesniak Experience, Strength, Hope Recover High School in Roselle, the first recovery high school in the state.
“The recovery high school was almost the start of all of this,” Thompson said.
The 24/7 hotline can be reached by calling 855-825-3275.