Sharon M. Joyce Director
Operation Helping Hand
What is Operation Helping Hand?
In 2016, while serving as the Bergen County Prosecutor, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal developed an innovative prosecutor-led program known as OHH. Through OHH, law enforcement actively links individuals with substance use disorder to treatment and/or recovery services. The traditional model that started in Bergen County involves law enforcement officers arresting users purchasing heroin or other narcotics at open-air drug markets and then immediately offering to link those individuals to care. The charges are not dropped if the user accepts help, but every effort is made to place him or her on the path to recovery.
Beginning in 2018, Attorney General Grewal made it his priority as head of the Department of Law & Public Safety to scale up the program, and with the support of federal and state funds, he expanded the program to all 21 counties. Attorney General Grewal asked each county to tailor its OHH program to its unique circumstances, and they have done so. Some counties continue to operate traditional, arrest-based OHH programs, while others have chosen to have law enforcement proactively link individuals suffering from substance use issues to treatment and/or recovery services through non-arrest means such as roving vehicles, Superior Court or Municipal Court programs, and direct outreach to those identified as most at-risk of overdosing.
How Has OHH Expanded?
In 2018, under the direction of Attorney General Grewal, the Department of Law & Public Safety expanded the Bergen County OHH model to four additional counties – Union, Morris, Passaic, and Sussex. Thereafter, supported by funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, OHH was expanded to 17 counties. Thanks to $2.2 million in Governor Murphy Opioids Funding, OHH is now operational in all 21 counties.
“We are treating this epidemic for what it is: one of the greatest public health crises of our time. Operation Helping Hand (OHH)—an initiative that partners law enforcement and recovery specialists to make resources available to individuals suffering from substance use issues after a law enforcement encounter—is a critical tool in fighting the epidemic.
In the minutes and hours following such an encounter, when users recognize that they are at a crossroads, OHH gives them the opportunity to choose the path of treatment and recovery. And if they are not ready, we persist; we keep in touch, and we show them that these options are always available to them. We have seen the majority of those we reach out to take us up on our offer of help. And, as a result, we have broken the cycle for hundreds of individuals already.”
How Does OHH Leverage Available Drug-Related Data?
New Jersey is a national model for how to use data-sharing programs to better understand and respond to the opioid epidemic.
The New Jersey State Police Drug Monitoring Initiative launched the At Risk Matrix Delivery (ARMD) as a way to offer law enforcement participating in OHH the opportunity to leverage available drug data— including law enforcement naloxone administration data and drug arrest data—to identify at-risk individuals in specific jurisdictions. The compiled data equips OHH programs with the intelligence necessary to identify at-risk individuals, conduct targeted outreach, and offer them linkage to care.
How Can OHH Programs Take Advantage of ARMD?
Law enforcement may submit requests for data pertaining to at-risk individuals for use during OHH outreach efforts via Michele.Schreffler-Perez@njsp.org.
For a copy of the NJ CARES OHH Resource Guide, please click here.