Morris County Sheriff’s Officers Undergo Additional Training on Engaging with People with Substance Use and Mental Health Disorders

The Morris County Sheriff’s Office is expanding the number of Sheriff’s Officers who are trained to screen and interact with individuals who voluntarily request help for substance use disorders.

Morris County Sheriff's Office Corporal Erica Valvano conducts a training session for Officers on the Police Assisted Addiction & Recovery Initiative (PAARI)
Morris County Sheriff’s Office Corporal Erica Valvano conducts a training session for Officers on the Police Assisted Addiction & Recovery Initiative (PAARI)

On April 3, 2019, the Morris County Sheriff’s Office became the first law enforcement agency in the county and the first Sheriff’s Office in New Jersey to sign on to the Police Assisted Addiction & Recovery Initiative (PAARI), which offers people with substance use disorders a pathway to treatment and recovery.

Sheriff’s Officers Ryan Warnett and Stephanie Mitchell initially were designated as PAARI Officers who would interact with individuals who voluntarily sought help for their addiction at the Sheriff’s Office at the Morris County Courthouse in Morristown.

This week, another 10 Officers and Superior Officers underwent preliminary PAARI training organized by Morris County Sheriff’s Office Corporal Erica Valvano, the Coordinator of the Office’s Hope One mobile substance abuse and mental health outreach program.

The PAARI training by Corporal Valvano, Mental Health Advocate Al Shurdom of the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris, and Therapist Francesca Viola of Daytop-NJ highlighted how Officers can be better attuned to sensitively engage with people who are struggling with addiction and may have a co-occurring mental health disorder.

“Have empathy and compassion and show the best parts of being human to deescalate a situation,” Advocate Shurdom advised.

Mental Health Advocate Al Shurdom of the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris conducts Police Assisted Addiction & Recovery Initiative training for Morris County Sheriff's Officers
Mental Health Advocate Al Shurdom of the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris conducts Police Assisted Addiction & Recovery Initiative training for Morris County Sheriff’s Officers

“The opioid pandemic claimed lives well before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. To have a healthy community and reduce crime and recidivism today, law enforcement agencies have to be willing to assist individuals who reach out for help,” Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon said.

Fatal overdoses are on the rise in Morris County and across the state. From January to June 30, 2019, there were 38 deaths by overdose in the county; in the same time period this year, there have been 47 suspected overdose deaths.

PAARI, an early diversion program first started in Massachusetts to stem the nationwide opioid crisis, is an extension of Hope One’s mission to provide stigma-free assistance navigating recovery and rehab options.  More than 400 law enforcement agencies across 32 states now offer PAARI to residents struggling with addiction.

In Morris County, 13 police departments and the Sheriff’s Office offer PAARI walk-in services.  Two additional police departments are going through the PAARI training.

In offering PAARI, the Morris County Sheriff’s Office has partnered with Daytop-New Jersey and the Rockaway-based Center for Addiction Recovery Education & Success (CARES) to address the needs of individuals who seek help from the agency.

Anyone who voluntarily walks into the Morris County Courthouse and requests help for a substance use disorder is first screened by a trained Officer and then connected with a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist from Daytop-New Jersey who assists the person with accessing treatment.

If Narcan is deployed on the individual and he or she is then sent to an emergency room, a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist from CARES is alerted to meet with the individual at the hospital.

The police departments in Morris County that serve as PAARI walk-in sites are: Butler, Chatham Township, Chester, Dover, Jefferson, Mendham Township, Montville, Morris Plains, Morristown, Mount Arlington, Mountain Lakes, Mount Olive, Rockaway Borough and Washington Township.