Rutgers Program Trains Police to Deal with Addiction

By Michael Hill

Every day in New Jersey, a heroin addict dodges death with a dose of naloxone. In some cases, that user will need another dose just hours later, instead of winding up in treatment.

Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies says it’s time for change, time to re-train law enforcers who are saving lives.

“Addiction is something that needs to be studied, but it also needs to be out there in the world. We need to be helping the people who can help the people with substance abuse disorders. It can’t just be a research only focus. The center is really working on outreach programs now to reach all the different people that can change especially this opoid crisis now,” said Jennifer Buckman, interim director of the Division of Education and Training at Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies.

“So we’re asking people who are not normally trained in this to work on the drug epidemic. And again, we’ve asked officers and even firefighters and EMTs to deal with this work but without too much explaining of what the policies are and what’s the next step,” said Frank Greenagel.

The CDC says heroin overdose deaths quadrupled from 2011 to 2014. More than 28,000 died from opioids in 2014, 19,000 from prescription painkillers and the rest from heroin.

In his training, instructor Greenagel explains what addiction is and confronts head-on the jaded officers tired of the fight.

“Because you have words out there like junkie, addict and scumbag, there are a lot of crimes that are committed by people who are either under the influence of the drugs or who are committing them in order to get money to buy drugs,” he said.

So Greenagel shows them pictures of parents whose children died from overdoses. Then pictures of happier times and the stories of what led to addiction.

“You hear about the heartbreak and the tragedy. It changes your world view a little bit. It’s not going to change completely with an hour and a half training, but it’s a beginning conversation,” Greenagel said.

On Nov. 10, officers from Warren Township became the first to take the training. Fifteen officers — about half the force here — in a room with Greenagel are learning in a more perhaps human way, how to treat addicts.

“We’re trained to investigate and prosecute,” said Warren Township Police Lt. Eric Yaccarino.

Yaccarino took part in the training.

“This training really helps police officers open up to resources they use while in the field and turn family members on to those resources,” he said.

In Somerset County, police officers hand out kits to addicts and their families directing them to help.

Other police departments have signed up for the Rutgers training program in a drug war that’s entered a whole new phase.

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