Hope One is Morris County Sheriff’s Effort Against Opioid Addiction

Morris County Sheriff James Gannon re-purposed a police van to help those addicted to opioids.

By Michael Hill

Recovering addict Peter Hurdman was among the intrigued — stopping by a big white van parked outside the Church of the Redeemer and its soup kitchen, a van with the words Hope One on the side.

“I think it’s a good thing,” he said. “It’s saving people temporarily … from death.”

Hope One is the answer to new Morris County Sheriff James Gannon’s question: what can the sheriff do about the opioid addiction epidemic?

“We’re not taking them to jail. We’re taking them on the road to recovery,” Gannon said.

Gannon says Hope One is the result of his campaigning last year, knocking on doors and hearing the heartbreak of heroin addiction. And it hasn’t stopped. He says even last Friday he lost a friend to addiction.

“It is personal. Because it affects everyone. You know something? This has nothing to do with politics. It has all to do with the right thing. Here we are in Morris County, some people say the sixth wealthiest county in the United States and we have these problems,” he said.

Gannon says with drug forfeiture money he re-purposed a police van, retro-fit it to accommodate the mission of outreach, staffing the van with peer recovery specialists and coaches, a plain-clothes deputy and a mental health clinician.

Before Danielle Pera of the Mental Health Association and Alton Robinson and Melody Runyon of CARES — or the Center for Addiction Recovery Education and Success — hit the streets twice a week to at-risk locations, they know how many beds are available to refer addicts to treatment based on the partnerships Hope One has built.

“We provide services to the client instead of the client seeking services on the phone, on with their insurance companies. We’re bringing services to them,” Gannon said.

“Well it starts with a conversation. And it’s going to start like, ‘What can I do to make your life better today?’ And with that conversation, we’re going to find out, one, what they’re willing to do because what we’ve found is that if we put someone in a position to do something that they are willing to do, they’re more apt to succeed at it,” Robinson said.

“We need people where they’re at,” Runyon said. “People are individual and we look at recovery as it’s self directed and there’s not a one size fits all. It’s the size that’s right for the person.

The Hope One van launched on April 3 with calls now from across the state to replicate this innovation and to repeat its successes.

“Six people into treatment,” Runyon said.

The sheriff says Hope One offers education, such as training families and friends how to recognize an opioid overdose and how to administer naloxone to bring addicts back from the brink of death.

But, the sheriff after all is a law enforcer who insists the law still has a role in this drug war.

“I do believe in enforcement for the for-profit opioid dealer. Cut the head off the snake,” he said.

The sheriff says enforcement and education and access to care offer the best hope in this fight.