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'Operation Helping Hand' Mobile Unit Provides Outreach, Support To Those With Substance Abuse Issues In Somerset County

SOMERSET, N.J. (CBSNewYork) - Somerset County has a new tool to reach out to those with substance abuse problems as the number of overdoses increases due to the pandemic.

CBS2's Meg Baker spoke to a heartbroken father about how it could have supported his son.

Craig Calderaro's son Anthony was just 22 when he died of an overdose.

"Why was this so important for you?" Baker asked.

"Important because I don't think the public realizes how big of a problem we have right now. It's five years since my son died," Calderaro said.

Operation Helping Hand
(credit: CBS2)

A van is now part of Operation Helping Hand, an initiative to make it easier for addicts to find help. Somerset County Prosecutor Michael Robertson says they will be proactively reaching out to members of the community they know need assistance.

"There are often times that people are reluctant, maybe shamed, embarrassed by what they are dealing with, and hesitant to come to resources that are in the county. And so we thought what better way to serve them than going to them," Robertson said.

Police officers will be accompanied by mental health experts inside the van.

Families can request a visit to their home, and it will be parked at the mall, and other popular spots.

In the first half of this year, there have been 21 overdose deaths in the county. In 2020, there were 38. That's up from 24 in pre-pandemic 2019.

"It knows no economic, social, ethnic or age boundaries," Robertson said.

The Anthony Calderaro Memorial Fund helped pay for the project.

"The more places we have addicts to go to without embarrassment and realize this is a problem for all of us," Robertson said. "We're not going to arrest our way out of this situation. We have to provide resources to battle what they are battling."

There is not one solution to the problem, but a helping hand can mean the world to someone lost in the world of addiction.

For more information and to get help for yourself or someone in need, CLICK HERE.

Meg Baker contributed to this report. 

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