Before noon, the illicit activity that occurs day after day in Paterson New Jersey’s 4th Ward already was in full swing.
Drug dealers called out to possible customers on Carroll Street. A woman waved to passing motorists near a “Just Say No to Prostitution” sign. Several people stood waiting outside an Auburn Street house that has been the scene of numerous drug busts. On a corner of Broadway and Summer Street, a man with his head covered by a blanket sat sprawled on a parlor chair, his feet propped up on a milk crate.
The opioid team set up their table across the street from him, outside Paterson’s main library. The town’s Opioid Response Team initiative is designed as a proactive attempt to combat Paterson’s narcotics problem. Instead of waiting for addicts to show up looking for help, the response team operates in the city’s most drug-plagued area to conduct its outreach efforts.
“By going out into the streets, it really feels like we’re fighting back,” said Opioid Team member John Reagan, director of the Recovery Center at the Eva’s Village social service organization. The program debuted in September and its members have given out more than 800 meals and provided 144 drug referrals through Oct. 27, officials said.
Reagan and Rachael Dean are steady members of the team, spending two four-hour shifts in Paterson’s 4th Ward every week. The slots for a police officer and EMT are filled by different people on a rotating basis — this week, Paterson Police Officer Justin Kimble and Johanna Ramirez, a city firefighter.
Kimble was in plainclothes, but the badge and gun at his waist made it clear that he was a cop. Crafting the role of the police officers assigned to the opioid team presented challenges, officials said — their inclusion was needed for safety reasons, but there were concerns whether their presence would scare away drug addicts looking for help. “I thought having him here might be a deterrent, but it hasn’t happened,” Reagan said.
Reagan and Dean had not even finished unloading their van when a woman approached and asked for food. Dean handed her a meal and asked if she wanted a referral that could help her get Suboxone, a medication that’s supposed to block heroin addicts’ drug urges. “No thanks,” said the woman, who wrote her name on the sign-in sheet as “Babay Sweet” and then rushed away.
In a stained sweatshirt and Scooby-Doo pajama pants, another woman hurriedly approached the team’s “Recovery Center” sign. She asked for a granola bar, can of soda and container of food, and also accepted the drug treatment referral forms Dean offered. “Rachael, I’m going to call you tomorrow,” she promised before resuming her journey.
“We know we’re making a difference,” said Howard Haughton, chief executive officer at Eva’s Village. “We’re hopeful this program will become a standard and model for other areas.”