War on drugs? Increasingly, law enforcement is leader in helping addicts get treatment

Ammon Labs
Charles Cardona, director of corporate development at Ammon Labs.

Locked in a battle with a severe opioid epidemic, the local addiction treatment space is coming up with new ways of ensuring people are put on a path toward recovery — not behind bars.

Charles Cardona from Ammon Labs said the paradigm shift in treating addiction starts with a proactive approach that members of law enforcement are best equipped for.

“Law enforcement are often the first ones to engage these people,” Carodna said. “And they just want to help.”

The Police, Treatment and Community Collaborative, which Ammon Labs was a founding partner of, has put local behavioral health industry leaders in touch with these front-line law enforcement officers to ensure people are introduced to avenues for treatment early on. 

“Its goal is really to take law enforcement and marry it to treatment, so they can better work together,” Carodna said. “And it has been hugely successful. They’ve helped get lots of people into treatment.”

As an example of this approach in action, West Orange Police Chief James Abbott has a policy allowing addicts to surrender drugs and paraphernalia without any questions asked. Eligible individuals — those without outstanding warrants — can then enter recovery at a facility such as Saint Barnabas Medical Center.

The local effort has emerged as a national model for redirecting individuals from the criminal justice system and into treatment and recovery programs.

“Chief Abbott’s phone is probably ringing off the hook as other law enforcement agencies look wanting to replicate this,” he said. “There are 18,000 police departments in the country and just a few hundred of these programs. So, right now, it’s just not out there like it could be.”

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