Sussex County anti-drug program celebrates its first anniversary

Coordinated effort to confront local part of national epidemic

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  • C.L.E.A.R. Executive Director Becky Carlson

  • Sussex County Prosecutor Francis Koch

  • Newton Police Chief Michael Richards addresses the audience at C.L.E.A.R's anniversary press conference

  • The C.L.E.A.R. team, from left: Prosecutor Koch, Chief Richards, recovery coaches Chris Ogar, Kelly LaBar, Regina Hannapple, Chris Ennis and., Katie Calvacca, and ED Becky Carlson

By Liam Donovan

— Sussex County’s C.L.E.A.R. (Community, Law Enforcement, Addiction, Recovery) program celebrated its first anniversary at a press conference in Newton Municipal Building on Wednesday, March 29.

“Everyone benefits when we help those who are suffering from addiction,” said Newton Police Chief Michael Richards, who has helped spearhead the initiative in the county.

“C.L.E.A.R. represents a rebirth for our community,” Sussex County Prosecutor Francis Koch said. “This is possible because it is our entire community involved… This is a changing of the dialogue, a changing of perception for those suffering from addiction, who can now seek assistance without fear of arrest or prosecution.”

Koch expressed the program’s intention to “catch people upstream” and allow people to seek out help with drug addiction before it puts their lives in danger or in trouble with the law.

“We learned long ago we are not going to be able to arrest our way out of this process,” Koch said. “…Isn’t it far better to stop that early on?”

“A vast majority of petty crimes in the newspapers are related to drug issues and addictions,” he said.

Sussex County has seen close to a 200 percent increase in deaths from drug overdoses since 2013. In 2013, 13 people died from overdoses of heroin, prescription drugs and other drugs in Sussex County. That number has risen every year, to 36 deaths in 2016.

This increased death toll is in spite of police forces now being equipped with Narcan, a drug that can reverse the effects of opiates like heroin, prevent overdoses and save lives.

“Every single department has Narcan in police cars…. Sussex County is the only county in New Jersey with 100 percent participation,” Koch said.

While deaths by drug overdose have increased each year, so have the amount of people saved from overdoes death through Narcan. According to C.L.E.A.R., while 36 died in the county in 2016, 52 people were rescued through the administering of Narcan. In 2015, there were 25 drug deaths countywide and 44 rescues via Narcan.

Koch said that, as county prosecutor, the drug users he speaks with don’t often want to see him, but many say that their “one regret is that [their] recovery did not start earlier.”

“This drive is not just for themselves, but for their families and their community,” he said.

“Recovery is real, and Sussex County is leading the way,” C.L.E.A.R. Executive Director Becky Carlson said. “Every single time C.L.E.A.R. was in the paper, people called.”

C.L.E.A.R. officials stress the need for recovery coaches to help the addicted return to a more normal life. The program pairs people suffering from addiction with coaches who support them in their efforts at recovery. Recovery coaches help initiate steps toward recovery and offer support to maintain long-term recovery.

Closing the ceremony, C.L.E.A.R. recovery coaches were recognized for their work.

“Recovery coaches are truly what sets us apart,” Chief Richards said.

C.L.E.A.R.’s phone number is 1-844-SC-CLEAR (or 1-844-722-5327). Their

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