Paterson police officer Justin Kimble said that while working with the Paterson’s Opioid Response Team team, he has run into people whom he previously encountered during his regular police duties. “I might have dispersed them from a corner or kicked them out of an abandoned building,” the cop said. “But here, I’m a different person.
“If someone comes here looking for help and they happen to drop a piece of paraphernalia, I’m not going to arrest them for that — I’m not supposed to stop them from getting the help they need.”
Johnanna Ramirez, the EMT, grew up in the same 4th Ward neighborhood in the 1990s — the change she has seen in the area bothers her. “There were drugs back then, but it wasn’t out in the open like this,” Ramirez said.
The full-time members of the team have their own stories connecting them to the cause. John Reagan and Racheael Dean are in recovery from substance abuse. Shortly after Dean got into recovery, she ended up living in an apartment building just three blocks from their site.
“The drug dealers controlled the building,” she said, where users openly shot heroin and smoked crack in the hallway. Sometimes, she would have to take her toddler and infant via the back stairs instead of the front. Dean lives in different part of Paterson now — “I only come back here for work,” she said.
Reagan is from a suburban area of Central Jersey and initially found working in Paterson jarring. Soon after he started at Eva’s Village recovery center, a client overdosed in a bathroom. He recalled, “I walked out of the building and was shaking. I asked myself, ‘What am I doing here?’ Then I looked up, and I saw the sun shining off the cathedral, and I was comforted.”
The flow of people stopping at the opioid team’s table varied. Sometimes, no one came by for 10 minutes; other times, there was a line five people long waiting for food and referrals.
“I don’t want to keep doing this,” said Jerome Stephens, who said he has been on the streets of Paterson using heroin for the past six years. “I got to break this down and get some help.”
After him was Tamyca Barner, who said she planned to seek the Suboxone. “I have a habit I can’t break,” she said.
A man took a referral form because “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired — I got to take advantage of this.” He then called his cousin and told him that help was available to people without insurance or identification.
Paterson is one of five New Jersey cities that got $150,000 grants from the state Attorney General’s Office for their Opioid Recovery team programs, along with Camden, Newark, Toms River and Trenton. The grant is scheduled to end in March, but city officials and administrators said they are working on continuing the program.