Photo by Tracy Klimek/New Jersey Herald - Newton Police Chief Michael Richards, left, holds the shining star award given to him by Becky Carlson, right, executive director of the Center for Prevention and Counseling, on Wednesday during the first anniversary event for the Sussex County Community Law Enforcement Addiction Recovery (C.L.E.A.R.) program at Newton Town Hall.
NEWTON -- During the first anniversary celebration for the Sussex County Community Law Enforcement Addiction Recovery program, Newton Police Chief Michael Richards announced that it would be expanding from his department to departments throughout the county.
"We have identified several police departments where the chiefs there have indicated interest in having their departments be an intake point for people who want to be screened into the C.L.E.A.R. program," Richards said.
Since the program's inception in 2016, the Newton Police Department has been the only one in the county where those wishing to enter the program could go for screening.
Beginning later this year -- Becky Carlson, executive director of the Center for Prevention and Counseling, anticipates either late summer or fall -- those wishing to seek recovery will be able to go to the police departments in Andover Township, Hardyston, Vernon, Sparta, Franklin and Byram, ask for help and then be escorted to the center to begin their recovery.
"It's huge," Carlson said of being able to expand throughout the county. "We have been servicing the whole county. Maybe like 25 percent of the participants are from Newton. It's going to increase the number of people we're going to help because if you're from Vernon you may be more likely to go to Vernon than come all the way down here."
Richards said the C.L.E.A.R. program training will available for all police officers in Sussex County, including the State Police, in the near future.
Sussex County Prosecutor Francis Koch said that since the program's official launch on July 18, more than 90 people seeking recovery have gotten in touch with the program. Forty-two of them have been in touch with recovery coaches and 23 have gone for treatment.
"That's almost three people per month we have been able to get into recovery," Koch said.
Set to expand, the program will send two recovery coaches to be taught how to be recovery coach trainers so that future coaches can be trained here in Sussex County, Koch said.
Carlson said this will allow the program to help more people in Sussex County.
To help the program expand, it will be apply for two grants, an Opioid Overdose Recovery Program state grant for about $255,750 a year for two years to help those who survive overdoses get into recovery and a $300,000 grant from the Department of Justice that will, in addition to helping fund the program's mission, also allow it to hire a project coordinator for the program, Richards said.
During the hour-long celebration for C.L.E.A.R.'s first year, local businesses including Newton Medical Center, Minisink Press, the New Jersey Herald, and the Seabrook House rehabilitation center in Cumberland County were honored for their support.
Also in attendance were representatives for Rep. Josh Gottheimer and Sen. Robert Menendez.
State Sen. Steve Oroho, Assemblyman Parker Space and Assemblywoman Gail Phoebus all attended the event, with Oroho and Space releasing statements of support after the celebration.
"Sussex County has not been immune to the opioid epidemic tearing apart families across New Jersey," said Oroho, who is a member of the Advisory Board for the Center for Prevention and Counseling. "There were 36 overdose deaths in our area last year. Sussex County C.L.E.A.R. has been instrumental in responding to this growing crisis. Its success has given our community an immeasurable amount of hope during this difficult time."
"The heroin and prescription drug crisis is running rampant in this state, resulting in the loss of lives, jobs and homes that has impacted communities and destroyed families in every corner of the state," Space said. "In Sussex County, we are fortunate to have the C.L.E.A.R. program, and its hard-working professionals and dedicated volunteers. The success of the program in preventing and treating addiction has made C.L.E.A.R. a model to be followed by other counties and states struggling financially and emotionally from the opioid and heroin disaster."
Though the event was a celebration for the year-old program, Carlson, Koch and Richards made sure those in attendance knew it was also a call to the community to come together further and continue fighting the opioid epidemic.
"As a community let's celebrate sobriety and recovery. They shouldn't be words we're afraid to say. They should be words we embrace," Koch said. "Let's reach out to those who need a word of wisdom or a push towards recovery. Let's be the best community we can be by helping others. Let's not be someone on the sideline, be active players to make Sussex County stronger, healthier and safer."
For more information on the C.L.E.A.R. program, visit clearprogram.org.