Monday, July 11, 2011

Stigma alive and well...

Twelve young adults from Hamilton Township were killed over the last two years by a deadly affliction. What disease did these individuals fall prey to? Was it HIV? Leukemia? Was it some rare form of cancer? Would it surprise you to know that it was none of the above, that in fact these individuals all died directly or indirectly from the disease of addiction? That’s 12 families who endured an irreparable loss, 12 lives cut short, their potential unfulfilled.

An opportunity to save some of these lives was lost last month when the Zoning Board in Lawrence Township denied a variance request that would have allowed Sunrise, LLC, to operate a drug and alcohol detoxification center on the property owned by developer John Simone. Lawrence had a chance to shine as a beacon of hope for those throughout the state with an addiction. Instead they were paralyzed by fear of something they didn’t understand.

According to a study by Substance Abuse and Mental Services Administration (SAMSA), the number of deaths in New Jersey attributable to alcohol and drugs during a five year period of time was just shy of 14,000. This number averages out to approximately 2,750 deaths per year. New Jersey is one of eight sites nationally trying to reduce this number through the Closing the Addiction Treatment Gap Campaign-NJ (for more information on this initiative, visit www.ncaddnj.org)

Until addiction is viewed as a “real” disease, not just in the medical profession or treatment and recovery communities but by society at large more of our young people will pay the ultimate price. Wasted assets, potential unrealized, futures lost- the impact on our communities has been devastating. Our next great doctor, lawyer, writer, musician or professional may be lost as a casualty to this disease. That’s right I said doctor or lawyer! The stereotype of a bum living under a bridge little resembles what an addict looks like, nor does the portrayal of the addict seen throughout these hearings, a caricature straight out of a horror film. To see what an addict looks like, all you need do is look around your office, your gym, your church or your child’s school. Better yet, you don’t even have to look that far, just look into a mirror - your reflection just may reveal the single greatest truth about this disease, which is that addiction can affect anyone.

Addiction is a public health crisis that impacts all of us in one way or another. The problem is that most view it as a criminal justice issue. It is this kind of mentality that was the genesis for the war on drugs. This war has gone on for 40 years and has failed miserably, coming at a great cost to our nation in both dollars and lives. National studies show that 1 in 10 are struggling with addiction. How many people do you know- family, friends, coworkers- that are impacted by it? It doesn’t discriminate based on color, gender, sex or where you live!

The case in Lawrence ultimately hinged on whether the detox center would be inherently beneficial to the community. The board ruled that it was not. New Jersey Legislation defines an “inherently beneficial use” as a use that is universally considered of value to the community because it fundamentally serves the public good and promotes the general welfare. It is hard to imagine anything that serves the public good and promotes the general welfare more than a facility whose main purpose it is to get people clean and sober. The positive impacts to the community are substantial because each recovering addict is one less person that the community has to support in the form of public assistance or other entitlement programs. A detox program is not merely inherently beneficial to its community, it is vitally necessary.

You may find abhorrent the behaviors that are associated with the disease of addiction. Many a crime has been committed in the procurement or distribution of narcotics, and without a doubt there needs to be an accounting by the addict for his/her actions. But these are human being who deserve a chance to get better and right the wrongs they have committed, and detox is the first step in that process.

You may be asking what can I do or how does any of this affect me? Simple, get armed with the facts. There are a lot of excellent resources out there. Educate yourself before you form an opinion or judgment about someone struggling with this malady. Contact your local municipal alliance. Talk to people that have knowledge on the subject.

One of the themes heard again and again at the eight months of hearings in Lawrence was “we don’t want ‘these people’ in our back yards … We would not feel safe nor would our children feel safe with ‘these people’ getting help in our backyards.” These people! What would happen if ‘these people’ included your husband, your mother or your sister? What would happen if it was your child who needed help? Wouldn’t you want them to be able to receive help as close to home as possible? If they broke a bone or suffered a heart attack, it would be ridiculous to expect them to drive to another county to receive help? Why should it be any different for someone suffering from the disease of addiction? Here is one final thought: if not in our backyard, than whose?

By: Thomas D. Allen Jr.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

“You are on the right path”- A tribute to Carolyn Hadge

Many of us are saddened to hear of the recent passing of an amazing friend and advocate, Carolyn Hadge of Tom’s River NJ. Carolyn was part of NCADD-NJ’s inaugural leadership class and participated in the program as recently as a week before her passing.

Carolyn was the one of the best natural advocates I have ever met in terms of speaking out to better assist others in need of supports for their addiction. I say this because when she spoke, it was from the heart and the genuineness of her words was impossible to miss.

When I heard the news of her passing, naturally I began thinking of the impact she had made in my life over a relatively short amount of time. I offer a number of recent conversations I had with Carolyn so we may remember her work and be reminded of why we continue to help others as advocacy leaders. I called Carolyn on the phone three weeks ago. Always willing to help others, she would often begin our conversations with the same statement.

Carolyn: “Aaron! What can I do for you!?”

Aaron: “First, you can turn your music down! What’s all that racket in the background?” I joked.

Carolyn: “Oh Aaron, It’s my Jazz!”

Aaron: “Are you hosting the Great Gatsby tonight?”

Carolyn: “I’m not that old!”

It is true. Carolyn was the youngest 75 year old woman I had ever met. She was as encouraged and motivated by seeing younger people get involved in advocacy (as well as teaching her students) as I was by her own passion and drive to continue to fight for what she knew in her heart to be right at the age of 75.

She was always willing to help.

Just a few weeks ago I sat on a bench with Carolyn in the State House halls as she waited to tell her story to the General Assembly. Over 50 young people in treatment were there at the State House that day to visually show solidarity and relay a simple message. That people in recovery give back to their communities, families and others when given the support they need.

Carolyn: “I get so excited to see you younger folks get involved.” She said. “Riley Regan and I, we are part of the old school, so I get happy when I see you and all these people on the right path”

Aaron: “Don’t worry Carolyn, they still make them like they used to”

We talked briefly about treating addiction as a chronic disease and how recovery is a process that should be supported over time, and ultimately allows people the opportunity to give back in full to others.

Carolyn: “It is the way it should be isn’t it? But people are afraid of change sometimes. Don’t you find that to be true?”

Aaron: “I do. We need to build each individual’s recovery capital, everyone is so different. It is so hard to measure and I think people underestimate just how much people can give back once they are in recovery. That’s why we do what we do isn’t it?”

Carolyn: “I like how you talk”

Shortly after, while the elevator doors were closing, Carolyn gave me a wink and instead of saying good bye she simply repeated

“You are on the right path!”

Those were the last words I heard Carolyn say. How fitting.

Six simple words that offer the reassurance and hope that we all need to hear once in a while.

I share this story because I know a number of the NCADD-NJ leaders work tirelessly, and advocate even though they have busy lives. It is understood, and sometimes, we just need to be reminded that we are on the right path, and there will always be something to fight for as long as there is that feeling that something just isn’t right, and we are able to help.

You know that someone is leaving a legacy behind when their sudden passing motivates you to want to do more for others, and that is exactly what I think we will remember Carolyn for.

Aaron: “Thank you Carolyn.”

Aaron Kucharski is NCADD-NJ’s Advocacy Trainer

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Madness Had to Stop

New Jersey First Lady Mary Pat Christie recently got to the crux of the issue of drug addiction and crime, one being inseparable from the other. Ms. Christie was compelled to try to so something. “This reentry thing is what grabbed me,"she said, "because the rate of recidivism was terrible. The fact that these kids – now adults, really – are going right back into a prison population – the madness had to stop.” Madness indeed. If insanity is doing the same thing time and again and expecting a different result, it would be hard to find a better example of it than what we have seen in two generations of drug war sentencing policies. These policies have left in their wake countless derailed lives and billions of misspent dollars.

It is maddening, and terribly sad, when you consider how many sentenced on drug-related crimes, often little more than children when they first got in trouble with the law, have had their youth devoured in prison. And once they have a criminal record and have drug problems that go unaddressed, many released from prison stand a strong chance of returning there. Data show the percentage of inmates whose crimes were related to drugs use is 81 percent, with 60 percent of inmates are rearrested within three years of their release, and half are re-incarcerated, each at a cost of just under $50,000 per year.

Ms. Christie’s husband said, “Anything that we can do to reclaim lives that can be lost to drug abuse and prison would be a great thing to do on a humanitarian level. Secondly, it’s certainly an economic factor. If we can turn these people from being economic drains into productive citizens, it’s great for the economy.” With his bully pulpit, the governor should consider putting the might of his office to help turn these words into action.

Expansion of drug courts and a new measure proposed in the New Jersey Legislature both take aim at drug use as the root of so much crime. Drug courts have already proved a great success in the state in referring certain offenders to treatment, which in turn has significantly reduced recidivism. Likewise, the legislative proposal deals with the core problem of drug use by cutting an inmate’s sentence by two years in exchange for participation in a program that begins six months before release and continues two years after. No one should regard either Drug Courts or the legislation as easy outs; they have demanding regimens that do not appeal to all eligible inmates.

Mary Pat Christie made no guarantee but said she would have her husband’s “ear on this” issue. We know the governor recognized the importance of addiction treatment from his having served on the board of directors of Day Top, a New Jersey treatment facility for youth. We also know that he has put the state’s fiscal health above all else. It happens that broadened use of drug courts and other measures to increase treatment of non-violent drug offenders would allow him to use public dollars in a far more productive way as he helps more citizens return to productive lives. On top of that, he can make his wife happy. It’s hard to imagine a more compelling set of circumstances.