ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — A program that will train police officers in drug prevention is now available in New Jersey. The Law Enforcement Against Drugs program is a nonprofit organization that aims to help law enforcement officers prevent drug use. Classroom programs run through L.E.A.D. will also work with children in schools to prevent street drug use and violence in Essex County.
“We will provide the leadership, resources and management to ensure law enforcement agencies have the means to partner with our educators, community leaders and families by providing proven and effective programs to deter youth and adults from drug use, drug related crimes, bullying and violence,” L.E.A.D.’s mission statement reads at leadrugs.org.
The program also works to create and maintain good relationships with law enforcement officers and their communities.
“It’s almost like the Red Cross with police,” L.E.A.D. CEO Nick DeMauro said in a July 21 phone interview. “It was the brainchild of police officers, and we used evidence-based training in drug prevention.”
Formed in 2014, the program is relatively new, but is used around the country, including nine New Jersey counties. On-the-street training teaches officers how to help community members avoid and recover from drug abuse and drug related crimes. After the training, officers are certified by the L.E.A.D. program.
“The goal of L.E.A.D. is to ensure a complete comprehensive approach to drug and violence prevention services offered by law enforcement agencies to bring back to their communities,” spokeswoman Deb Turso said in a July 28 email.
According a June 2017 report released by the N.J. Department of Human Services Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services, in 2016 New Jersey saw 76,509 treatment admissions for substance abuse, based on figures from the New Jersey Substance Abuse Monitoring System. Essex County alone saw 6,528 admissions, of which 49 percent were for heroin and other opiate abuse. The remaining 51 percent was for alcohol, cocaine, marijuana and other drugs. Though Newark had the highest rate of residents seeking treatment, each town in Essex County had at least one resident who sought treatment in 2016..
Of course, this data only shows those who sought treatment. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2015 New Jersey saw 1,454 deaths from drug overdose, a number that has been increasing yearly. Many of these deaths are seen in younger individuals, especially teenagers and young adults in their 20s and early 30s.
L.E.A.D. offers a 10-lesson classroom program based on age and grade level that covers topics that include decision making, alcohol, tobacco, street drugs and marijuana.
“We’ve walked in with curriculum that has been proven effective,” DeMauro said. “Officers are coming off the streets knowing more about prevention.”
The classroom program is run through a partnership with the Mendez Foundation, a nonprofit organization that develops anti-drug and anti-violence curriculum.
The effectiveness of L.E.A.D. has been proven, according to DeMauro, who said, “When tested, it’s changed attitudes, it’s changed behavior.”