As a person in long term recovery from addiction since September 6, 2003, and a New Jersey resident entrenched in grassroots advocacy since 2010, I have seen the progress that can be made in addressing addiction issues. When elected officials set aside partisanship to work with family members, people in recovery and treatment professionals, they find solutions and better the odds for those struggling with addiction.
This week, it was announced that Governor Chris Christie will lead the White House Opiate Task Force. If this White House can face the opiate crisis as aggressively as Christie has in New Jersey, then this development could be promising.
According to the Surgeon General, an American dies every 19 minutes from an overdose of heroin or prescription opioids. – Gov. Christie, 2017 State of the State Address
Governor Christie has spoken openly of why addiction is so personal for him. He lost his college roommate to a drug overdose and he has told a number of stories about several people close to him being in recovery.
Our friends are dying. Our neighbors are dying. Our co-workers are dying. Our children are dying. Every day. In numbers we can no longer ignore. – Gov. Christie, 2017 State of the State
In my opinion, addressing addiction in New Jersey for the Governor wasn’t just about helping save lives in Jersey communities, it was about setting an example for the rest of the country. Governor Christie has a unique opportunity to bring his leadership around addiction issues to the national stage.
In two terms Chris Christie, with the help of the NJ legislature and advocates, has:
- Signed into law the most aggressive health insurance protections for people seeking addiction services in the country, mandating insurance to cover six months of inpatient or outpatient
- Expanded the Narcan program to law enforcement and family members and has trained hundreds of law enforcement officers and EMT’s. Just in 2016, there were over 10,000 Narcan deployments statewide, resulting in thousands of lives being saved from accidental overdose.
- Embraced peer-to-peer recovery coaching for overdose victims in 11 New Jersey counties linking people in recovery to hospital programs that expand a continuum of care when people are at their most vulnerable
- Aggressively increased treatment options in every New Jersey county for non-violent drug offenders and signed into law automatic expungement for drug court graduates
- Expanded the state’s prescription drug monitoring program.
- Signed the Opportunity to Compete Act, giving those with criminal records a fairer shot at employment in the job interview process
- Signed the Good Samaritan Law, providing immunity for those calling 911 in the event of a drug overdose
- Expanded recovery and prevention in education environments by signing into law a bill that mandates substance misuse instruction in the state core curriculum, a bill that helped open the state’s first recovery high school, and a bill that requires all state colleges that have 20 percent of students living on campus to have recovery housing and support
- Has increased funding for addiction prevention, treatment, and recovery support in every New Jersey state budget.
- Signed a bill that requires jails and prisons to supply medications to inmates for chronic illnesses including medically assisted treatment for those struggling with addiction
- Reopened a correctional facility specifically to treat those incarcerated struggling with addiction
- Accepted federal funds under the ACA to expand Medicaid so more people can access drug treatment services
No more pre-approvals. No more medical necessity reviews prior to admission by an insurance company bureaucrat. No more denials that can cost lives. Treatment first, hope first, denials last. – Gov. Christie
This is just a handful of examples of the progress that has proven to work when reaching across the aisle and listening to family members and people in recovery who have lived experiences with substance use disorders and recovery.
Christie’s efforts show that in order to address addiction we need all hands on deck. Democrats, Republicans, Independents, law enforcement, educators, doctors and hospital staff, family members, and people in recovery need to face addiction together as a preventable and treatable health issue.
Aaron Kucharski also runs a statewide advocacy program in New Jersey.