Recognizing they can be part of the solution to curbing the heroin epidemic, health care competitors at the Jersey Shore have been working together with the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office to offer additional treatment for addicts at no cost.

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Since Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato pitched the pilot program less than a year ago, more facilities in Ocean and Monmouth counties are volunteering medical professionals to meet with heroin addicts once they are taken to a hospital emergency room following a Narcan reversal and offering those patients free, additional help.

Sunrise Detox Center, which has facilities statewide, including a new facility in Toms River, is among those participating in the pilot program. John F. Moriarty III, vice president of Business Development at Sunrise, said many times opiate dependent individuals are dissuaded from seeking help because once they are released from the hospital, they're put on a waiting list for three to four weeks to get into a state-funded or county-funded treatment program.

"There's a lot of people in Ocean County, specifically, that don't have health care that gives them substance abuse benefits," Moriarty said. "This coalition is a combination of both private sector and public sector. There's no public funds being involved with it right now."

The coalition originally started with Preferred Behavioral Health Group, the Prosecutor's Office and Sunrise Detox, according to Moriarty. It quickly expanded to hospitals in Ocean and Monmouth counties run by the Barnabas Health System, Meridian Health, and CentraState Medical Center in Freehold, as well as other treatment providers.

The pilot program is something Coronato has said he's pushing to become a statewide model and eventually a national program.

While at the emergency room, patients are met by a medical professional and offered an opportunity to get help for their addiction by immediately being admitted to Sunrise Detox, according to Moriarty.

"No questions asked. Whether they have insurance resources or not, we will scholarship that individual at our facility. While they're there, we work with the individual, we work with resources throughout the Ocean and Monmouth County footprint, with a lot of treatment provided," Moriarity said. "While the individual is at Sunrise Detox, they're given a treatment plan, they're induced on a detoxification protocol and then some kind of aftercare is put in place for them, preferably with the best chance of success."

At the minimum, recovering addicts are set up into an intensive outpatient program, where they see therapeutic staff three to five days a week, Moriarty said.

Moriarty estimates an average of five to seven emergency room patients a month are offered the voluntary treatment program, but he did not have figures as to how many actually accept it.