Cops to offer addicts help under new law

John C. Ensslin, The Record

Addicts will be able to seek help from their local police department under a bill that Governor Christie signed into law on Wednesday.

“This new law allows police officers — often the first people to discover nonviolent drug offenders in their worst state — to become a point of access for help and recovery,” Christie said.

The new law directs the state director of Mental Health and Addiction Services and the Attorney General to draft regulations to enable county and local law enforcement to establish programs in their own departments.

The regulations would establish guidelines for the training and recruitment of police officers, volunteers and recovery services taking part in the program.

The measure, co-sponsored by Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Englewood, is a revised version of a bill that Christie had conditionally vetoed on Sept. 8. In his conditional veto, Christie outlined proposed changes in the bill that he said were aimed at ensuring that the program operates effectively “and not as a way to avoid prosecution for serious crimes.”

The state Assembly and Senate unanimously adopted the changes.

“We are experiencing a heroin/opioid epidemic,” Vainieri Huttle said of the increasing numbers of overdose deaths in New Jersey and nationwide.

“This ensures assistance from our law enforcement officials to work together with volunteers and advocates in recovery programs,” she added. “It ensures that an individual will not be afraid of criminal charges. So therefore the individual will not be afraid to come forward.”

Opioid overdose deaths in the United States have quadrupled since 2000, to 28,647 in 2014, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.

Christie noted that the new law is the latest of several initiatives in New Jersey, including expanded drug courts, a program that enables first responders to administer a heroin overdose antidote and a former prison being converted into a drug treatment center for inmates with addictions.