CLEAR introduced into Vernon

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  • Newton Police Chief Michael Richards discusses the CLEAR program.

  • Vernon Mayor Harry Shortway offers his support to CLEAR in Vernon.

  • Vernon Township Police Chief Randy Mills discusses the CLEAR roll out in Vernon.

The Community, Law Enforcement, Addiction, and Recovery (CLEAR) program roll out was introduced, Oct. 11, at the Vernon Coalition meeting.

Newton Police Chief Michael Richards and Vernon Township Police Chief Randy Mills explained the CLEAR program is intended to help people struggling with opiate substance abuse disorders, who are not part of the criminal justice system and drug court.

Richards said, in addition to Newton, six other police departments are now trained to become intake centers and will be announced in the next couple of weeks: Vernon, Sparta, Andover, Franklin, Hardyston, and Byram.

From July 2016 to July 2017, Richards said they have been piloting CLEAR in Newton, through using the hospital, Center for Prevention and Counseling, and the police.

He said, the CLEAR success rate is higher than other types of programs. They aim to help the gap of under-served people, he added, who have not committed a crime, but still would like help with drug addiction. Typically, someone who has committed a crime related to the use of drugs and drug addiction, Richards said, is in drug court, receiving recovery treatment.

In order to be part of the program, he said someone first comes in a police department and says, “I need help. I'm here for the CLEAR program.”

The police officer fills out a questionnaire, evaluating the situation and needs; the person voluntarily surrenders any drugs or paraphernalia; and the officer refers them to a recovery coach. Richards said the officer will not interrogate the person about drugs or charge them with anything.

The number of people dying from overdoses, Richards said, is exceeding accidental deaths due to car crashes and firearms. He continued, in 2014, they started using Narcan across Sussex County, which has reduced some overdose deaths. However, he added, overdose deaths continue to trajectory upward.

Thus they decided to do more than give people Narcan. He said, in November 2015, the Director of the Center for Prevention and Counseling Becky Carlson, Police Chiefs' Association, Atlantic Health, schools, and social service agencies started discussing the CLEAR idea.

Richards said they also now have the Opiate Overdose Recovery Program (OORP), where a recovery specialist is dispatched to the Newton Hospital Emergency Room to help every overdose patient. Thus, he said, when the person is at their most vulnerable state — just coming out of an overdose — a peer recovery coach is with them, paid for through Center of Prevention grant funding.

He said, they have many recovery coaches, but they need more in Vernon. Currently, Vernon Coalition Senior Coordinator Rebecca Dorney said, they have four family coaches trained for Vernon.

Mills said, they used to joke, in Vernon, that more bears break into houses than people do.

“We can't say that anymore,” he said, due to heroin.

He also said CLEAR will help lower the amount of crime, after addicts in the area are turned around and do not break into houses and businesses to steal and support their habit.

"That's a win-win," Mills said.

Mills said, after being a police officer for 27 years, heroin is different, where normal people start with an opiate prescription drug after an accident or wisdom teeth being removed; they then doctor shop and ultimately begin heroin, because it is cheaper than a prescription drug opiate.

More than 10 Vernon detectives and officers, Mills said, all volunteered to be CLEAR representatives — the intake people at the police station. He added, “Once we make it available, we are there 24/7.”

Mayor Harry Shortway said he supports CLEAR and whatever Chief Mills needs. He also said, he does not care what it costs, because “How much is a life worth?”

Shortway also shared his own painful experience after cancer surgery. He said his former police training protected him, but he saw how easily one could become an addict with prescription opiates – just to sleep or get away from the pain. He hypothesized, most of the heroin addicts started with the prescription opiates.

Mills agreed, “A very high percentage.”

The Vernon Coalition then discussed ways to get the word out about CLEAR and the need for funding. Richards said they just received a $300 donation from T.J.'s Pizzeria; and Mills said they also use the CLEAR Facebook page, and possibly a business could donate funds for posters.

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