Updated: Jul 28, 2018
As you know, the Unites States has been significantly impacted by the opioid epidemic. It has made its way into every corner of our country leaving no neighborhood or household immune to its affects, including the residents of Atlantic County. It is destroying families, careers, relationships and taking lives every day. No entity can be expected to fight this battle alone. It will take significant effort and a combination of public/private partnerships working in unison toward a common goal; To reduce opioid access, use, abuse and the occurrence of overdose. These efforts must include government participation, at every level, to affect change through policy analysis and amendment, the creation of educational programs and stricter guidelines for prescribing opioids.
Sheriff Eric Scheffler has a personal understanding of this issue seeing it firsthand through a family member’s experience. He has also seen countless lives destroyed by addiction during his twenty-three years as a police officer. Witnessing the affects through both lenses, positions him to have a unique perspective of the disease of addiction. Holding the Office of Atlantic County Sheriff now gives him the ability to affect change from a different angle than most. As a law enforcement officer and a concerned father, brother and husband he has developed the drive to make change while maintaining empathy for the victims who have suffered along with their loved ones.
Some of the initiatives being implemented by the Sheriff’s Office include a partnership with the Atlantic County Department of Human Services, the Mental Health Association of Atlantic County, JoinTogether Atlantic County, Atlanticare and Acadia Healthcare. We are also in the early planning stages on an Officer Resiliency Program that will be provided by Acadia Healthcare and the FBI National Academy Associates.
One of our other projects includes a partnership for our “HOPE ONE” initiative. The “HOPE ONE” mobile response unit will offer critical support for persons struggling with addiction. The Atlantic County Sheriff’s Community Services Unit will operate the mobile unit with our partners. The “HOPE ONE” vehicle will travel to locations throughout Atlantic County providing services to persons in need. A Sheriff’s officer, licensed clinician, and a certified peer recovery specialist – who understand the needs of those suffering with addiction and who can triage individuals in crisis, will staff the vehicle.
In addition, Narcan kits and training will be provided to family members and friends of those suffering with an opioid addiction. The specialists staffing the van will also maintain communications with treatment centers, so they can track available beds, in real time, in the event they encounter an individual who is in immediate need of treatment. Our goal is to provide direct assistance to people regardless of their socioeconomic status or condition.
The intent of the “HOPE ONE” mobile unit is to remove barriers for people in need of services and eliminate the stigma associated with seeking help. The mobile unit will be a caring, non-judgmental environment for any resident of Atlantic County seeking safety and treatment guidance and support.
Since taking office in January, Sheriff Scheffler has begun restructuring the Sheriff’s Office to enhance efficiency. We have formed partnerships with the NJSP, FBI, US Marshal’s Service and the DEA's. Tactical Diversion Squads (TDS) which are dedicated to investigating, disrupting, and dismantling individuals and organizations involved in drug diversion schemes. We have assigned Sheriff’s Personnel to each of these task forces to increase our investigative and enforcement capabilities. Our Warrant/ Fugitive Squad has consistently achieved some of the highest arrest rates of violent criminals for any department in Atlantic County.
In addition, we are seeking new strategies to complement our investigative and enforcement capabilities through information and intelligence sharing. To that end, the Sheriff’s Office has assigned personnel to the NJSP Regional Operations & Intelligence Command Center which is the hub for intelligence dissemination for all of New Jersey law enforcement. This partnership will give investigators and analysts access to accurate and timely information critical to effective tracking, investigating and arresting of violent criminals.
Sheriff Scheffler is actively seeking additional partnerships with Recovery Groups and Mental Health Services to complement the efforts already underway and mentioned above. We are in search of funding that will support these efforts and enhance services for Atlantic County individuals and families fighting this epidemic. Unfortunately, the operating budget at the Sheriff’s Office does not provide for support for these programs so we must seek assistance from private sources. Like any new endeavor, it takes innovative thinking, diligence and, of course, some risk taking to gain ground when funding is limited. However, this is a battle worth fighting for and we owe it to the residents of Atlantic County to stand in their corner and speak in a unified voice. We, as a society, must begin to recognize that mental health and addiction issues are a sign of being human. After all, the human condition is about accepting our humanity, our frailty and our strengths.
Thank you for your time
Timothy J. Reed
Chief Warrant Officer
Atlantic County Sheriff’s Office
Brigantine Chief of Police – Retired