The former police officer applied to participate in a drug court treatment program last week.
A New Jersey police officer who overdosed on heroin while at work lost his job but will avoid jail time if he completes a treatment program overseen by the state.
Matthew D. Ellery, a police officer for Franklin Township Police Department, was found unresponsive in his cruiser on April 7, according to USA Today.
Authorities first became concerned when dispatch tried to reach Ellery, but was unsuccessful. Another officer went to Ellery’s last known location and found him unresponsive. The officer administered two doses of the opioid-overdose reversal drug Narcan.
On Friday (July 12) Ellery pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled dangerous substance (heroin) and driving while intoxicated.
Will He Keep His Job?
He will not be formally sentenced until August 23, but on Friday Ellery applied to participate in a five-year Somerset County Drug Court Program.
If he does not successfully complete that alternative sentence, he will face three to five years in state prison. In addition, Ellery will no longer be able to work as a police officer, and he will lose his driver’s license for seven months, the plea deal said.
Ellery had been with the department since 2016.
Ellery is not the only police officer to face issues with substance abuse. Like any segment of the population, police officers are at risk for addiction.
Law Enforcement Officers & Addiction
“Not only are law enforcement officers not immune to addiction, but they are also more susceptible to addiction because the stress of their jobs renders them so,” Dr. Michael Genovese, a clinical psychiatrist and chief medical officer at Acadia Healthcare, told The Fix.
Genovese said the stress and trauma of the job can be too much for some officers.
“Police officers to whom I have spoken, who suffer from addiction, are not generally using drugs to get high or have fun; they are using them to numb emotions they find painful,” he said. “Every day, police officers witness things that are outside the scope of normal human experience, and the frequency and intensity of traumatic events are overwhelming to the officer’s brain, even if he or she thinks they’re not.”
Recently two officers—one in Maine and one in Maryland—fatally overdosed. Michael Koch, who worked as an officer for 15 years, said having access to drugs made it easier to fall into addiction.
“In 2010 a lot of heroin was on the streets and we were doing a lot of busts where we confiscated heroin, and also things like Oxys. I crossed the line and started taking things out of evidence for my personal use. I justified it by saying it was going to be thrown out anyway, but by that time I’m an addict and living a double life as a well-respected undercover cop and also as someone that was smoking a ton of heroin. Eventually, I got caught taking drugs out of evidence.”