Stafford Police Department Extends Helping Hand to Addicts; Community Braces for Massive Route 72 Paving, Construction Projects

By VICTORIA FORD | May 31, 2017

Mayor John Spodofora announced the launch of a new program in Stafford Township for drug users to surrender their illicit narcotics to police in exchange for substance abuse evaluation and treatment instead of drug charges or jail time. Stafford’s is the third police department in Ocean County to implement the Blue HART (Heroin Addiction Recovery and Treatment) program, effective as of Tuesday, May 24.

Brick and Manchester have accepted 160 participants so far, thanks to the commitment of Preferred Behavioral Health in Lakewood and Integrity House in Toms River. In addition to connecting addicts with treatment resources, one goal of the program is to improve relations between law enforcement and non-violent drug offenders.

Ocean County is reported to have had the second highest overdose total in New Jersey in 2015, with 157, Spodofora said. In 2016, the number exceeded 200 deaths linked to overdose. The Blue HART program, which initially began on Jan. 9 under the name HARP (Heroin Addiction Response Program), was the first of its kind in the state. Blue HART is designed to go beyond the proactive Narcan and Recovery Coach Program measures to offer substantial diversion help in order to reduce the impact of heroin and opioid abuse in the community, according to the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office.

Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato has called it “a great step in expanding the options” to those seeking help.

Drug users can come to the Stafford department on Tuesdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. to turn in drugs and undergo a free evaluation, no insurance necessary, Spodofora said. (Manchester is Wednesday and Brick is Thursday – but any day an addict needs help and reaches out, arrangements can be made.) Participating facilities would absorb the cost of treatment. Officers can also bring in a drug user they feel might benefit from the program as long as the individual consents to the voluntary screening process. The program is geared toward people who are willing to accept help.

Heroin is part of the program’s name, but any and all narcotics users can be accepted, and addicts can come from any town. The Stafford Police Department works with Ocean Mental Health Services in Manahawkin and Bayville. Some addicts may be treated at facilities in Florida or Texas, but all transportation and services are covered by forfeiture funds.

“We are trying to work the drug issues from every possible direction we can,” Spodofora said, “including education in schools, enforcement in the police department and help to those who are willing.”

In other news, Councilman Steven Jeffries, whose extended absences from council meetings and activities have raised questions and concerns among citizens, was in attendance last week and announced his consulting gig in South Dakota is coming to an end, so he expects to be able to attend meetings on a more regular basis.

Spodofora also gave an update on ongoing efforts to establish berms in the bay, using dredge materials, to dissipate wave velocity in the event of a major storm. “We’ve put together a coalition of mayors to address the issues,” he said. He has already met with Congressmen Tom McArthur and Frank LoBiondo, as well as the state Department of Environmental Protection in Trenton, and done press interviews, including with one international agency.

“This is a challenging project, but we need to protect the lives and property of residents along the back bay,” he said. “We need to work today to be prepared for the impacts of future storms.”

On April 4, Spodofora and other mayors convened on the subject of base flood elevation maps. New designations will be published on the township’s site, he said. The big news is no houses in Beach Haven West are in a V zone any longer, while many that were designated AE are now X. Stafford will adopt the maps in the near future, he said.

In his administrator’s report, James Moran reminded the public that this summer Barnacle Drive, “the single-most dangerous spot in town,” will become a “right in, right out” turning pattern. Ultimately, he continued, the goal is to get an access point out of the back of Health Village, to make Mermaid Drive a four-way intersection.

Local motorists will have what Moran described as “probably an entire summer’s worth of work” to look forward to navigating when the state Department of Transportation starts its paving project on Route 72, from Marsha Drive to the traffic light at ShopRite, and from the Garden State Parkway to the entrance to Fawn Lakes. The section in between the two is subsumed in the East Road project, for which two large utility poles and a water main have already been moved to accommodate the reconfiguration of that intersection. The DOT expects to have completed the right-of-way acquisition by the fall and to award the bid and start construction by late spring 2018.

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