Pubdate: Mon, 09 Jan 2017
Source: Asbury Park Press (NJ)
Copyright: 2017 Asbury Park Press


Sitting in a jail cell and preparing to spend as many as five years in
state prison for two heroin possession charges, Matt Lopreiato found
himself at a grim crossroads.

"I destroyed my family inside and out. I felt like my life was over. No
family, no friends," the 27-year-old Toms River man said. "I felt like I
was alone and would be better off dead to be completely honest with you."

The heroin addict went cold turkey and spent 43 days in Ocean County Jail.
Then an offer arrived: go through addiction treatment, succeed and go

The friends and family he thought abandoned him scraped together enough
money for a week of treatment. For the other three weeks, the treatment
center gave him a free bed.

That was in July 2015. Lopreiato has been abstinent since, he said. The
restaurant maitre d' is now weighing whether to become a "recovery coach"
like the people who approached him in jail and ushered him into treatment.

A fundamental change in the way authorities handle addicts has slowly been
taking root at the Jersey Shore. And it started with Lopreiato,
authorities said.

Under a new policy in Monmouth and Ocean counties, addicts arrested for
drug-related offenses can avoid jail or prison if they agree to enter
treatment. If a candidate successfully completes a treatment program,
charges can be dismissed, downgraded or probation given, officials said.
When Lopreiato completed the program, instead of prison, he got an extra
year of probation he was already on for earlier drug offenses.

Police chiefs and municipal prosecutors can also hold out those
possibilities for lower-level disorderly persons offenses if a candidate
completes treatment.

The new form of diversion differs from that of the New Jersey Drug Courts
operated through the statewide Superior Court system in that drug court
candidates have no hope of a dismissal. A defense attorney must request a
judge to sentence a client to drug court in a bid to avoid incarceration.

The new policy is a fast-tracked version of drug court for addicts facing
indictable charges. Assistant prosecutors in both counties are the ones
who will be asking a judge to sign off on a recommendation.

WATCH: "I'm addicted to heroin"

Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni said he has faced the
frustration of doctors who have saved overdose victims only to watch them
walk out of an emergency room without entering treatment.

"They're saying, 'Isn't there anything the cops can do to force them into
treatment?' We can't do that. We really don't have the leverage when they
get sprayed (treated with naloxone)," Gramiccioni said. "With this
program, we have leverage."

Handling the people in need of treatment is New Jersey Addiction Triage
Center, a nonprofit organization incorporated at the end of last year and
backed by Malvern Institute, a rehabilitation center in Pennsylvania.

Adrienne Johnson, director of the Triage Center, said addicts are caught
in a cycle of arrests and incarceration.

"Then they're back on the street," she said. "Diversion offers them
opportunity. The miracle happens down the line, when they get into
treatment. Sometimes the light bulb goes off."

Working with her on the program is John Brogan, one of the recovery
coaches who first contacted Lopreiato and who has been working with the
Ocean County Prosecutor's Office, which has pushed to bring addicts to
treatment. (Photo: Asbury Park Press file)

This is the second phase of a three-prong approach to save more addicts,
said Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato.

It started with using former addicts to persuade overdose victims saved
with the antidote naloxone to go into treatment.

The diversion program overcomes one of the moral quandaries of the narcan
program: offering treatment to only those who overdosed.

Ocean County is poised to unveil the next prong of its three-level
approach: allowing addicts to walk in off the street to a police
department and get placed into treatment.

Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato plans to do something that is only
now growing nationally: tracking the progress of participants through
follow-up contact using recovery coaches.

"If we don't do that, we're just recycling them," Coronato said.

Gramiccioni on Friday said his office also plans on monitoring the
progress of participants.

Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni. In background is
Chief of Staff Steven Padula. Members of the Monmouth County Prosecutor's
Office meet with Asbury Park Press staff to discuss relations. Neptune, NJ
Friday, December 2, 2016.  (Photo: Doug Hood)

In Monmouth County, this form of diversion quietly started in Belmar in
August. Since then, Brogan, and later the Triage Center, have helped 14
people in four other towns as well: Asbury Park, Brielle, Hazlet and

Since January 2016, recovery coaches in Ocean County have helped steer 97
people into treatment in Brick, Lacey, Manchester, Point Pleasant, Seaside
Heights and Toms River. More departments are set to participate.

The program costs taxpayers little if anything, officials said. The Triage
Center coordinates with rehabilitation clinics to take in patients whether
they have insurance or not. Treatment centers agree to take on patients
without insurance in exchange for other patients that come through the
diversion programs that do have insurance, Gramiccioni said.

The use of county staff is minimal. Assistant prosecutors review
indictable offenses to begin with. This program adds another level of
review for addicts.

The two dozen recovery coaches expected to work for the program will be
contractors with Malvern, Johnson said. The Ocean County Prosecutor's
Office plans to use money forfeited from drug busts to fund some of their
training as it has already done.

The program sends participants to two New Jersey treatment facilities, the
Ocean County-based Preferred Behavioral Health Group and Integrity House,
based in North Jersey with a facility in Toms River. But out-of-state
facilities in Florida and Texas and Malvern will also be supplying beds,
Johnson said.
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