Amid a growing heroin and opioid crisis in New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie announced in his State of the State address today plans for two significant efforts to bolster the way substance abuse treatment is accessed and provided…
He said the state has created a single phone number that will help connect those seeking help to available treatment services, regardless of where they are in the state. Currently, Christie noted, this task is split among federal, state and local governments, as well as private groups, which can make navigation difficult.
“Imagine, just one phone call to provide real time information, assess available treatment options and connect them to the help they need right then,” Christie said. “It’s the smart way to make sure we don’t have people that are stuck in the system.”
Christie also announced that he plans to expand the offender re-entry program currently in place at the Hudson County Correctional Facility, to five other cities: Newark, Paterson, Toms River, Trenton and Atlantic City. The Hudson County Jail program, championed by former Gov. Jim McGreevey, has shown significant successes since it began in 2009. It helps connect drug offenders to treatment while they are in jail and connects them to housing, additional treatment and employment services when they leave.
“Most of the offenders that come through this jail committed a crime because of a drug addiction. But it occurred to me, why are we just throwing money at something that’s not working?” Oscar Aviles, the jail’s director told NJ Advance Media in a recent interview. “We have funding to pay for the commitment and have these people in a structured environment. We ought to be treating them.”
“My position on this is pretty simple — drug addiction is a disease. It can happen to anyone, at any time, from any station in life, but we can treat it,” he said. “Crying at the needless senseless funerals of our children and our friends is not enough.”
In his address, Christie touted the expansion of the state’s drug court system, which allows criminals brought to court on drug charges a chance at entering a treatment program in lieu of a jail sentence.
He also noted a bill he signed that promises immunity to people who witness a drug overdose and call 911 for assistance, as well as legislation that greatly expanded the availability of drug overdose antidote Narcan, which saved more than 700 lives in 2014 alone.
But the successful use of Narcan also underscores the expansion of the heroin and opioid crisis under Christie’s watch. The successful use of Narcan is a measure of lives saved in the state, but also of how many were brought to the brink of death by heroin or opioids in 2014.
There also remains a lack of residential treatment for substance abuse in New Jersey, one that Christie himself acknowledged in a recent interview with NJ Advance Media. An annual survey by the federal government shows that New Jersey’s residential treatment facilities have been operating at or near capacity for several years.