Legal Briefs Podcast #5: 24/7/365 Recovery Services for Low-Level Opioid Offenders

Contributing Author: National District Attorneys Association

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Operation Helping Hand provides access to immediate and free recovery services to anyone arrested for a low-level opioid offense. This program takes place for five days once a year in every county in New Jersey. Suspects arrested for low-level possessory offenses involving heroin or other opioids are offered face-to-face access to recovery services at the time of arrest. The arrested party is immediately connected with recovery resources if he or she accepts.

Earlier this year and with the help of New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, Union County Acting Prosecutor Lyndsay V. Ruotolo worked to expand the addiction intervention program in Union County to operate year-round and 24-hours a day. The program is now known as “Operation Helping Hand 24/7/365” and is run in partnership with Prevention Links, a nonprofit that provides peer recovery coaches. Union County gave Prevention Links $110,000 in funding to hire additional staff to work with offenders who wish to participate in recovery services. Union County itself also received two state grants totaling more than $162,000 to support the expansion.

Operation Helping Hand 24/7/365 is part of an effort to address Union County’s ongoing opioid epidemic, an epidemic also impacting jurisdictions around the country. Over the past five years, more than 500 people in Union County died as a result of a drug overdose. The program wasn’t expanded overnight, however. Prosecutor Ruotolo has been involved with Operation Helping Hand services since 2016 when General Grewal started the program in Bergen County. The service grew over the years to have a presence in counties across New Jersey. Union County is now the first county across the state to have expanded to 24/7/365 operations.

In this episode of Legal Briefs, Prosecutor Ruotolo shares with us the details of her county’s efforts, including building the program, what the personal interactions between offenders and law enforcement officers are like, what implications the coronavirus pandemic has on the program, and more.

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The National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) is the oldest and largest national organization representing state and local prosecutors in the country.

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