Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Recovery Voices Count at the DHS Budget Forum

Taking one of the few remaining seats at the recent DHS budget forum, I was overwhelmed by the number of people with stories pertaining to recovery, which showed the need, at the very least, to sustain current funding levels for treatment. I was also profoundly moved by the ongoing suffering of active addiction as a direct result of inadequate funding. Although the forum was for all developmental disabilities, including-retarded citizens, hearing impaired, and the blind, the recovery presence proudly dominated the arena.

Given only three minutes each to make their case, NCADD-NJ advocates focused on issues such as recovery communities, bridging the treatment gap, and the state’s Good Samaritan Bill, which would give immunity to anyone calling 911 to give care to some who overdosed.

Some leaders told their stories through the analogy of addiction and the devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. This image helped illustrate the wreckage associated with addiction as a chronic disease. It crystallized the fact that addiction not only affects the addicted, it changes the course of the lives for their children, parents and loved ones. A chance at recovery can mean the difference between a sad and hopeless life for a child and one filled with hopes and dreams.

 NCADD-NJ Advocacy Leader Kathy Brown explained how her 14 years of long-term recovery afforded her a career as an adjunct professor and her three children a decent life. One of her children just passed the bar exam to become a lawyer. Many would agree this is a testament to the domino effect of recovery.

NCADD-NJ Leader, Cindya Mercado 
Another NCADD-NJ advocate, Cindya Mercado, who helps to run the first state Recovery Center at Eva’s Village in Paterson, told her touching story of addiction and recovery. It is because of her journey that she is able to help hundreds of others in this effective recovery community center of which we need so many more.

Concerning the treatment gap, the Leaders presented the alarming statistic that some 800,000 people in NJ are in need of treatment, yet only 5-7% of them receive it. People are dying in part because waiting lists for treatment are just too long. Many who need treatment have to hope that a fellow addict doesn’t show up for treatment just so they have a chance at life.

Parents spoke up who have lost their children as a result of an overdose, which may have been prevented if a law such as the recently vetoed Good Samaritan Bill had been in effect. Although DHS cannot control the Governor’s veto, it doesn’t hurt to voice these tragic truths publically to help change attitudes and move the policy forward.

Some of NCADD-NJ staff drove home the reality that they are living proof that many people who suffer from the disease of addiction absolutely DO recover and lead productive lives. In order to see more of these successes we need additional treatment dollars for quality treatment and recovery centers to begin to meet the demand for many who have not even had one chance at recovery. I can only hope that these words impacted the decision makers-as they touched me - when the budget hearing was over and decisions for the FY 2014 are being made.

Dorene Kinloch
NCADD-NJ Communications Specialist &
Staff Writer

Friday, November 09, 2012

Opiates Casually Dispensed

Not long ago, I was taken to the emergency room after being hit by a car while cycling. I came away from the mishap certainly shaken but, considering what could have happened in such a collision, suffered only quite minor injuries: two gashes on my leg requiring stitches and a sore shoulder. The pain caused me some discomfort but was by no means excruciating (trust me when I say I have no great tolerance for pain).

I was given morphine in the ER and on release from the hospital a generous prescription for vicodin. At no time did the doctor offer any word of caution given about the potency of the painkillers, nor was I asked anything about having addiction history.  I was not taken by surprise by this; in fact, it’s just what I expected given what I had heard from others.

The lax regard for painkillers was in stark contrast to all other aspects of the fine treatment I received. The attending physician was by and large thorough and caring, and the nurses were attentive. The gap between these areas of medical care and the way the opiates were so casually doled out only made this shortcoming all the more glaring. It perfectly illustrates the absence in medical training of education about addiction.  

Prescription opiates and other strong painkillers should not be taken lightly, yet they are liberally prescribed. Certainly my experience is the norm, not the exception. The Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey recently orchestrated the state’s annual collection of unused prescription drugs. This is a good way to prevent misuse of strong painkillers, but an even better way would be if these drugs were not so readily available in the first place.

Daniel J. Meara
NCADD-NJ Public Information Manager

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Drug overdoses often follow periods of sobriety, abstinence

With the untimely death of Garrett Reid, 29, son of Eagles’ head coach Andy Reid, addiction is once again in the spotlight, but the perils of addiction can be found anywhere, including here in Mercer County. In fact, according to a 2011 report issued by the state Department of Addiction Services, 31 percent of Mercer County residents who received substance abuse treatment struggled with addiction to heroin and other opiates.

After a highly publicized bout with addiction, most people who knew Garrett said he was a highly motivated individual who appeared to have overcome the challenges of his past.  The problem with addiction, however, is it can not be cured; rather, the addiction becomes a disease in remission.

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction, like other chronic diseases, often involves cycles of relapse and remission. I work with a lot of families who have lost loved ones to drug overdoses. Many of these families say their loved one appeared to be doing well prior to the overdose. Unfortunately, that’s often the case.

Most opiate overdoses occur after periods of abstinence or sobriety. An opiate addict develops a tolerance to the drug quite rapidly, thus necessitating more or a stronger dosage of the drug to achieve the same effect. Opiate addicts typically enter treatment on such a high dose – and with such a high tolerance – of the drug that it would most likely be fatal to an individual who was not addicted.

As addicts recover, their opiate tolerance decreases. If a person relapses, he or she is likely to consume the same dose that individual had become accustomed to before sobriety. Because this person had abstained from opiate use and has little to no tolerance to the drug, relapses often result in overdoses.

Addiction is a devastating public health issue, whether it impacts the son of a professional football coach or a complete stranger. Unfortunately, it usually takes the death of a public figure to shine light on the devastating toll that addiction takes on society.

Tom Allen
Executive Director
Summit Behavioral Health

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Methadone and benzodiazepines; a dangerous relationship

For those of us who are in or around the field of addiction and recovery, we read about overdoses and contraindications of medications enough that we almost become desensitized. The tragedies that come along with the consequences of addiction are all but expected- but what about the tragedies of recovery?

Speaking as someone who had been deeply affected by the loss of a loved one, suddenly it is important to understand how and why these things happen. In my sister’s case, these questions still haunt me several months later.

Afflicted with a plethora of challenges, including mental illness, recovery from heroin addiction and debilitating pain caused by a rare disease called Reflex Sympathetic Distrophy Syndrome (RSD); Donna never seemed to lose hope.

Her recovery began in 2004 when she participated in and had great success at a methadone clinic. She would eventually earn full privileges, which meant she could take home a week’s worth of her split dose because she provided clean urines over a significant time period.  She was leading a health conscience and productive life in spite of her obstacles. Her contributions were a wide range of artistic abilities, avid gardening skills, spiritual principles, and an immense capacity for compassion, humility and gratitude.

After an auto accident in 2007 exacerbated her RSD symptoms, Donna began to sleep walk. These episodes would cause her wake up in pools of blood as she would fall, bashing her head on various objects. It took many months for her to agree to the idea of seeing a sleep doctor, for she feared yet another medication. Correct in her assumption, she was prescribed a benzodiazepine, which seemed to markedly help the hazardous sleepwalking but would ultimately play a part in her downward spiral. Following treatment recommendations that were made by her specialists, including two back surgeries, she moved from the methadone clinic to be seen by a pain management specialist who prescribed what most would consider a high dose of methadone. All of the physicians involved in her care were aware of all the medications she was taking and the contraindications associated with long-term use. Eventually the benzodiazepine lost its therapeutic effectiveness and had more side effects than anything else. She attempted to wean off the benzodiazepine on her own, which led her death on February 24th, 2012. Her cause of death was ironically determined to be a Methadone overdose, which was due in part to benzodiazepine withdrawal and caused a fatal seizure.

Medication assisted treatment is a viable option when taken responsibly. I will never get my sister back, but I can only hope that her example will stop others from making a fatal mistake. Methadone clinics are cracking down on the use of benzodiazepines for this very reason. What is made clear from my sister’s death is that benzodiazepine detoxification must be done properly and under a physician’s care.


A typical detoxification from a benzodiazepine is anywhere from three days to three weeks depending on the dosage and length of treatment.


In about one-half of the deaths involving opioid analgesics, more than one type of drug was specified as contributing to the death, with benzodiazepines specified with opioid analgesics most frequently.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Barriers to Recovery persist, no matter your home run total

Every day after I get out of work I turn my radio to local sports radio in my car for the ride back home.   Although I am a die-hard Patriots and Boston Red Sox , I can’t help but identify and get wrapped up in Philadelphia sports talk radio because I understand the fans’ frustration towards their teams when they don’t produce or reach expectations.
Last week they were discussing whether or not Josh Hamilton (center fielder for the Texas Ranger) deserves a long-term contract after this year since his current contract is coming to a close.

To give you a brief history on Josh Hamilton, he was the first overall player drafted in 1999 and was one of the highest rated baseball prospects in years.  Active addiction derailed his early career and he didn’t see time in the Major Leagues until 2007.  From 2006-2009 he was clean, with a short relapses in 2009, and  early 2012.
The host of the show asked Philadelphia Philly fans if they would want Hamilton on their team given his history with addiction.  It didn’t even take me two callers to remember why I work to address the stigma that exists for people in recovery.

I sat in my car and heard a number of Philadelphia sports fans tear him apart saying they wouldn’t want him on their team because “the guy has demons” and has “too much baggage” and would become a liability to his team.   The way they portrayed him you would have thought Josh Hamilton was a serial killer rather than a baseball player.
 Just to put this into context a little bit, the Philadelphia Phillies organization right now has a terrible offense.  They can’t produce runs and are desperate for a big bat in their line-up.   

Currently Josh Hamilton leads the major leagues in home runs and runs batted in.  He even broke the record for total bases in early May, hitting four home runs in one game and a double.  Not to mention that Hamilton is a four-time All Star, and 2010’s most valuable player, winner of the batting title and for the past two seasons has lead his team to championship games. 
I remember reading a feature on Hamilton in Sports Illustrated years ago and watching him hit an amazing 28 home runs in the 2008 home run derby.  I wonder if anyone was thinking about his demons and baggage while they watched this.

I also wonder if anyone stopped to consider that because Josh Hamilton has faced his “demons”, or conquered barriers of stigma and negative public perceptions, and is living a career that is constantly under a microscope, that he is stronger and a better player as a result.  He is a man who relies heavily on his faith and has earned the respect of his teammates to a point that when the Rangers celebrate championship victories they refrain from shaking up  and spraying champagne, but choose to celebrate with bottles of ginger ale.

People in recovery from addiction and alcohol overcome barriers every day.  Some of these barriers include stigma, shame, lack of family services, funding, insurance discrimination, and not to mention many people in recovery may have criminal records making job applications harder than hitting four home runs in a single game.

Many people in recovery vote, take care of families, inspire others in recovery daily, write elected officials, advocate, have gainful employment, and go back to school.
It is time we highlight and elevate that recovery is a reality for millions of people, and that we can change the negative public perceptions about people in recovery by telling our stories and discussing these barriers together.

Many real life examples are out there.  Devin Fox, an NCADD-NJ Advocate, recently graduated from Rutgers University with a masters degree in social work, and also from the Rutgers Recovery House.  The Recovery House is a great example of removing a barrier for someone in recovery, meaning a safe and fun housing option existed on a college campus where alcohol and other drugs are prevalent at that age.Congratulations, Devin, to you and your family!

As a person in recovery since Sept. 6 of 2003, I can honestly say that life is better as a result and overcoming barriers has made me a stronger individual.
NCADD-NJ Advocates are planning a forum to discuss this exact topic at Ocean County College on Wednesday June 13th from 6-8PM.  For more information on the event click on the link below.

And as for Josh Hamilton…  I am sorry that the Philadelphia Phillies fans that I heard on the radio didn’t want him on their beloved team, but the way I see things, it is their loss.  Let him go to the Red Sox instead! 

By Aaron Kucharski 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Death does not get last word

The loss of a loved one, especially of someone young, can leave us at the brink of despair. So overwhelming is the sadness that some of us never find a way to see beyond the grief. The alternative is to resolutely explore the tragedy to find if some good can come of sharing it. This takes a particular strength, for it means having to endure the anguish of the loss with each retelling. The second of these choices was on courageous display at a recent legislative hearing as a number of fathers and mothers recounted the deaths of sons or daughters by overdose.

The issue before the Assembly Judiciary Committee that brought these parents to Trenton was expansion of the state’s Good Samaritan law, which would give immunity to people who call for help should someone in their company suffer a drug overdose. One can well imagine that those testifying would rather have been anywhere, doing anything else than what they were there to do: describe their children’s last hours and know at a core level that the proposal under discussion would have saved their lives.

One woman was clearly shaken at the prospect of sitting before the lawmakers and talking about her son’s overdose. She said under her breath that the legislators intimidated her. More daunting must have been the idea of going in front of a group of strangers to speak about something so personal and so raw that it racked her body. Yet she made her way to the witness table and did just that. She told the panel the stark facts, that instead of someone calling to get medical assistance for her son, “he was left alone to die without the help he needed.” The story embodies the cruelty of having one’s child die coupled with the knowledge that it was preventable.

A father who similarly lost his son followed. He also spoke about the 911 call not made. And after his son died, he recalled lying down with him and feeling the coldness of his body. That image left the hearing room stone silent.

This mother and father each buried a child, seeing the natural order of their world upended. Somehow, having gone through this, they not only did not withdraw but took responsibility for trying to rescue others’ children threatened by what had taken theirs.

Credit should also go to Assemblywoman Connie Wagner, one of the bill’s sponsors. She knows first-hand the experience of a parent seeing a child lost in addiction, but in her case not lost to addiction. At the hearing, she spoke about her son, who, after three separate 911 calls made when he overdosed, has found his way into stable recovery. The Assemblywoman knows well how fortunate she and her family were. She does not pretend to know the depth of loss the witnesses described. But with those stories brought before the legislature, it is impossible to think the Good Samaritan law will be denied in cases of drug overdose for much longer.

- Daniel J. Meara

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Treatment for non-violent offenders – Smart on crime at long last

Governor Chris Christie deserves praise for making sentencing reform a central issue in his State of the State. Known for flexing his political muscle, the Republican governor put his bully pulpit to the best possible use in saying the time has come to be smart on crime.

The governor was both firm and caring in his call for providing treatment for non-violent drug offenders instead of putting them in prison. His speech on January 17 insisted that the lives of non-violent offenders are not to be discarded. He said, “We want to help you, not throw you away. We will require you to get treatment. Your life has value.” These lives, as all lives, he said, are worthy of redemption.

He demonstrated he understands addiction to be a disease that exempts no one, that “touches nearly every family” in the state. Denial of having a drug or alcohol problem, he said, has kept many offenders from entering drug court, so his proposal removes the possibility of their opting for a prison term, which would likely see them released only to return to the drug use, crime and re-arrest.

The proposal is large scale, with the governor urging a “transformation” of the way we deal with “drug abuse and incarceration in every corner of New Jersey.” It would expand drug courts to every county in the state, affecting approximately 7,000 non-violent drug offenders.

The governor noted that for many serving prison sentences, drug addiction was the “underlying” problem, the root of the crimes they committed. The numbers bear this out: Slightly less than 30 percent of New Jersey’s prisoners are incarcerated due to a base offense involving drugs and 81 percent have an addiction according to a report by the Urban Institute. Furthermore, the recidivism rates for drug court are very low when compared with the rates for people coming out of prison: 8 percent for drug court graduates as opposed to 67 percent for the general prison population. Studies show that treatment can cut addiction in half, reduce criminal activity by up to 80 percent, reduce arrests up to 64 percent, reduce recidivism by 53 percent and help reclaim thousands to live as responsible parents, taxpayers, and law-abiding citizens.

With the budget in mind, Gov. Christie noted that treating offenders with a drug problem is two-thirds less expensive than imprisoning them. At his town hall meeting in Irvington on January 19, he said the annual cost of incarcerating someone convicted of a non-violent drug crime was $39,000, whereas having that person treated through drug court for one year would be 12,000.

Recognizing the political challenges that will accompany this undertaking, the governor asked the Legislature and the Chief Justice to join him in making it a reality. He has a ready legislative partner in Senator Raymond Lesniak, a Democrat. The senator has a package of bills that would expand drug court, among other reforms, which he discussed at a State House press conference on January 23.

A related area of concern is what becomes of those who graduate from drug court. To complement drug court, the state must put in place reentry programs and policies that help offenders leave behind the circumstances that in many cases contributed to their involvement with drugs. It is crucial, therefore, to remove barriers to employment and education, and Christie and Lesniak have both considered these matters in their reentry proposals.

It was striking that Gov. Christie stressed the human cost of imprisoning people with alcohol or drug problems. He said that everyone deserves a “second chance” and maintained that “no life is disposable.” The governor, whose forceful demeanor is so often at the forefront, in this case showed strength of a different sort. It may well take a conservative of his standing to see sentencing reform through. For the thousands for whom treatment will help them break the cycle of drug use and crime, and for all New Jersey residents, it is surely heartening to see signs of sound policy carrying the day over partisan norms.

Dan Meara

NCADD-NJ Public Information Manager