Friday, January 16, 2015

Christie’s Speech Offers Promise on Addiction; Now Comes the Hard Part

 Governor Chris Christie’s fifth State of State was expected to signal his run for the presidency, and that it most certainly did. But it also concentrated on addiction in considerable detail. While the governor touched on basic Republican themes of smaller, more efficient government and tax breaks for corporations, he devoted a quarter of the speech to steps taken to date to address addiction (drug court) and what will be done in that area in the coming year.

His emphasis on addiction being a disease, a statement that has echoed throughout his tenure, was sounded again in his State House address. That New Jersey’s governor, let alone a presumptive candidate for president, would speak at length on this issue is something addiction advocates would not have believed. Beyond the state’s borders, his giving so much of a speech that confirmed his national aspirations could well mean this subject will getting a hearing during the Republican primary season. 

The governor spoke several times of ensuring the level of treatment provided is appropriate to the patient. He described a system “utilizing services that don’t actually work” for people. This is a vital point about addiction that gets heard far too seldom. Having treatment suited to the individual relates both having the best chance of having a good outcome and to making the best use of limited resources. NCADD-NJ has advocated use of the American Society of Addiction Medicine’s Placement criteria in diagnosing a patient to ensure he or she is placed in the right care level.

Critics of the governor’s speech were quick to note that treatment dollars are greatly lacking in New Jersey, as they are elsewhere, and the governor was vague at best in identifying how the treatment would be paid for. He talked about replacing a “bureaucracy of options” with a single point of entry approach and that, by coordinating programs and services, the state will “maximize resources.”
Yet Assemblyman Herb Conaway, who is a doctor, observed that “Whenever something is underserviced in healthcare, it is most of the time because there is too little money going to it.”

The governor has prided himself on being an atypical politician. For him to truly stand apart, he needs to acknowledge that in and of itself efficiency with existing resources will not be adequate to meet the addiction care shortfall seen in New Jersey. If and when he takes that difficult step of putting principle and funding behind his words, he will lift more lives out of addiction and at the same time he may lift his chances for 2016.

By: Daniel J Meara
Public Information Manager

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