Wednesday, November 29, 2017


Homo sapiens are a consistent source of disappointment. I often wonder whether humans can really be Nature’s last word. However, the antidote to this pessimism was served up in full on November 4 at the Summit for NCADD-NJ’s volunteer Advocates held at Rutgers in New Brunswick.

Primarily consisting of people living in recovery and their families, all have endured quite a lot. Into each life, as the poet says, some rain must fall. Almost all at the gathering have been on the receiving end of a torrent, but continue to fight back, and win. It was a day for honing skills, sharing information and expressions of gratitude. What I’ve always found so admirable about our Advocates, is their generosity of spirit. In addition to dealing with health issues, stigma, lack of access to appropriate care, battles with insurance companies, and financial setbacks, amazingly, they have been able to devote some of their strength to the service of others. Much of their effort won’t benefit them. Their noble hearts have directed them to reach down and help others up the ladder. One of the most moving moments of the event, was the graduation presentation by state Senator Patrick Diegnan to Advocate Amalia Papi. The Senator came off his re-election campaign three days before Election Day because, as he put it, “Amelia is forever doing for others and it is fitting that her hard work be finally recognized.” The same could be said for each of the Advocate Leaders.

The relatively recent more refined understanding of the addiction problem both among the general public and policy makers, is attributable in no small degree, to the Herculean efforts of our Advocates. They have put the human (there is that word again) touch on the dilemma. Thanks in large measure to them, the disorder that once dare not speak its name, now won’t shut up. And there have been specific, substantive public policy reforms for which they have been at least partly responsible. Some of these were delineated at the Summit, and include: dedicated enhancements of state budgets to provide treatment and recovery, invitations to appear at public forums and in the media, the Good Samaritan Law, criminal record expungement revisions, evidence-based school instruction on addiction, added recovery housing at university and college campuses, improved drug therapy programs in lock-up facilities, Ban the Box legislation, increased availability of naloxone, and a statewide implementation of needle exchange initiatives. And these only begin to detail the far-reaching improvements to public policies that the Advocates can be most proud.

Meanwhile, it is acknowledged, that the work must continue. As New Jersey sees a new Governor and Legislative Term embark, the struggles go on. After the November Fourth victory lap, it is realized that more needs to be done. Insurance companies must be made to cover more anti-opioid medications, and to reimburse for behavioral healthcare on a par with the manner in which they do for medical and surgical therapies. There needs to be expungement reform for people living in long-term recovery, and not only for people who had the opportunity to complete drug court. Schools, and other public venues must stock and utilize naloxone. There should be an expansion of recovery community centers throughout the Garden State.

Knowing that there is more that needs to be accomplished, and wanting ever to improve the message and its delivery, the two hundred Advocates in attendance spent a good portion of the day in training workshops. Topics included: integration of mental health and substance use disorder, insurance parity, self care for advocates, helping young people, and the role of peer-to-peer support as part of therapy.

So, the Advocate Summit was partly a pat on the back, part educational, and part pep rally. We’re all looking forward to the next one.

Ed Martone
Policy Analyst

P.S. Here are some photographs of the event

Tuesday, November 21, 2017


57 aspirants for the state Legislature completed the NCADD-NJ questionnaire. 33 of those were elected on Nov. 7, 2017. Of the 33: 18 are Democrats, while 15 are Republicans. The answers reflect a deeper understanding of the addiction problem, along with a more refined approach to solving it.

* 32 view addiction as an illness, rather than a bad choice.
* A large majority favor dedicating the monies collected via the Alcohol Tax toward drug and alcohol treatment. 12 would support raising the Alcohol Tax and earmarking the additional proceeds to addiction therapy.
* A significant majority support the expanded utilization of overdose reversal drugs.
* 27 want to see an expanded presence throughout the state of recovery community centers.
* 32 wish to enhance current drug, alcohol and mental health programs in jails and prisons.
* 29 would vote for continued reforms to more easily allow for criminal record expungement for those in recovery.
* 30 favor alternatives to incarceration for non-violent drug offenders.
* 9 support marijuana legalization and regulation
   17 endorse marijuana de-criminalization
   10 want to keep the present marijuana laws unchanged

This relatively recent sophisticated thinking about substance misuse is due in no small part, to the efforts of people such as NCADD-NJ’s Advocate Leaders who have given a voice and face to the issue for policy makers. The Advocates will now be sought out for practical and substantive ways to deal with this epidemic by decision makers. The volunteer Advocate Leaders, along with their supporting organization (NCADD-NJ) are more than willing and capable of supplying this needed expertise. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

IN LIKE A LAMB … (Opinion)

 There is no reason to doubt Governor Chris Christie’s sincerity of purpose in conducting his part in the battle against substance misuse. With January 16, 2018 looming as his final day in office, he is exiting in a flourish on the issue that he has showcased in his second term – the fight against addictions. Striving to better the lives of men and women struggling with addictions, is not the cause any political consultant would tell their client to take on in order to win the love of the voters. Yet, take it on he has. Just in the past few weeks, Mr. Christie has taken steps to move additional monies in the state Budget to drug programs, implement some of the recommendations of the Governor’s Task Force on Drug Abuse Control, and push pharmaceutical companies to expedite the development of new non-addictive pain medicines and improved medically assisted treatments.

More specifically, the Governor has recently endeavored to:
* Revise EMT guidelines to permit first responders to carry double the dose of the opioid overdose reversal drug, naloxone. This is in response to the added potency of the synthetic drug fentanyl which has become an even deadlier item than heroin
* Expand the Recovery Coach Program statewide
* Create three regional residential treatment centers for pregnant women and new mothers
* Add to supportive housing for adults with SUD
* Ensure a greater use of naloxone, and enhanced utilization of medication assisted therapy, in prisons
* Increase spending for On-Campus Recovery Programs
* Establish an Opioid Education Campaign for Obstetricians
* Hire five additional Drug and Alcohol Counselors at the Juvenile Justice Commission to ensure parolees continue drug treatment once they reenter the community, and
* Erect a partnership between some of the pharmaceutical companies and the Natl. Institutes of Health and U.S. Food and Drug Administration to help erase the opioid epidemic

To be sure, the Governor has not always been right on these questions. He has left much undone. His predilection to govern by ambush – making policy by announcement rather than by consensus, has failed to bring on needed partners in the fight. Indeed, his words have often contributed to the coarsening of the political and governing processes. And his unforgiveable participation in promoting the political career of the Mad Gargoyle who presently occupies 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. will result in less resources for the Garden State in its combat with the opioid scourge.

In a future Blog, I’ll summarize some of the strides forward made by both the state Legislature and Mr. Christie on addictions in the past two years. Another entry will detail some of the further policy reforms that must be undertaken to enhance prevention, treatment, and recovery efforts.

My worry is that we may have reached the zenith of concern and energy for tackling this problem. Despite all that has been done to date, the picture only appears to darken. Also, with Mr. Christie leaving office, it takes the champion off the field. There may be a tendency to regard addictions as “his” legacy – and now it is time to focus on other issues facing the state government. It will be our challenge, to shore up the progress already made, to inspire and guide our policy makers to avoid a feeling of hopelessness, and to focus them on what everyone agrees continues to represent one of the worst health crises of our time.  

Ed Martone
Policy Analyst

Wednesday, October 04, 2017


The results are in from NCADD-NJ’s 2017 Survey of the 225 State Senate and Assembly Democratic and Republican candidates. 57 individuals addressed the written eight areas, and both the questions and their answers are available for viewing as a slider on the homepage of the NCADD-NJ website at Many of the respondents also elaborated on their thinking at various points of the questionnaire. All of the candidates received numerous questionnaires  from many organizations on a number of topics, and we are grateful to those persons who took the issue of addictions seriously enough to make the time to share their policy preferences with us. NCADD-NJ is non-partisan, neither supporting nor opposing candidates for public office.

Of the 57 candidates who responded to our survey:

* 26 were incumbents, 25 were challengers, and 6 were running for an open seat
* 23 were Republicans and 34 were Democrats
* 52 view addiction as an illness
* 43 believe treatment is very effective
* 52 pledged to support funding to ensure that therapy is available to those who need it
* 44 support mandating that anyone revived from an opioid overdose be transported (with their consent) to a detox or treatment program
* 40 want to see opioid blockers kept on supply in public places, e.g. schools, libraries, sports stadiums, etc.
* 45 endorse the expansion of the number of Recovery Community Centers, and
* 43 support using public funds to do so
* 22 endorse the legalization and regulation of marijuana, and
* 36 support its de-criminalization (a number of respondents endorse both)
* 14 would leave present marijuana prohibition laws in place and unchanged
* 47 approve of criminal records expungement relief for individuals who can demonstrate long-term recovery
* 55 want to expand alternatives to incarceration for non-violent drug offenders
* 42 wish to restrict the use of isolated confinement in prisons and jails

* 52 approve the enhancement of drug, alcohol, and mental health programs in lock-up facilities

Tuesday, August 08, 2017


What a strange time we live in smack in the middle of a worsening epidemic of drug misuse, our leaders in Foggy Bottom are debating the depth of the cuts to be administered to our nation’s healthcare defenses. More precisely, every one of the Affordable Care Act alternatives being deliberated upon, as of this writing, would scale back Medicaid funding and take health insurance away from millions of Americans. The “angels on the head of a pin” argument has been, whether X millions is better than Y millions. It is likely Garden State decision-makers will be called upon to make up the difference, so to speak. This has at least one historical precedent that I’m familiar with. When the then-Bush Administration eliminated some of the financial support for HIV/AIDS programs while that illness was at its peak, the state, I think heroically, stepped up to keep the struggling programs whole. Can, and will, the N.J. state government this time, supply the monies necessary to prevent (forestall?)a coming catastrophe for thousands of its residents? My position is that it must. A sicker populace will also be a more expensive one . So, putting moral and humane importuning to the side; ultimately, the state will have little choice in the matter.

One must pity the next N.J. Administration. Whoever wins the election will inherit a Budget that takes in less revenue than is needed to run the government. And a tax regimen that disproportionately sends the hard-earnings of New Jersey residents and businesses to pay for the follies of the federales in the District of Columbia. To make the situation worse, the state will now be asked to provide the safety net that is cruelly and irrationally being yanked away by the apparatchiks in Puttinville (nee Washington, DC).

Perhaps the move of the confederacy in 1861 was the wise one, and maybe the Garden State ought to consider leaving Trussia (nee United States of America). One would imagine self-sufficiency would be a more rewarding goal for New Jerseyans than caring for one’s own – and – paying for the tweeting irresponsibility of the fakirs who presently rule the country’s roost.

A more likely, and practical, proposal would be to adopt the TrumpCare Nullification Act offered by Senator Ray Lesniak and Assemblyman Jamel Holley. Currently being readied for introduction, this measure would replace the tax cuts on high-income families with an equivalent state tax, and use the proceeds to continue the Medicaid subsidies for the low-income families and the elderly who will suffer lost coverage or severe reductions in care.

Ed Martone

Policy Analyst       

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Proposed Ohio Narcan Law Shows Stigma Lives On

Every once in a while something happens to remind me how far we have to go in pursuing the mission that Marty Mann established over 70 years ago when she started the National Council on Alcoholism. That organization, which is now the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), started with the mission to educate the public that alcoholism is a disease, the alcoholic can be treated, and that addiction is a public health issue. One of the primary purposes of NCADD was to reduce the stigma associated with addictive illness.

I just read an article that the town of Middleton Ohio is considering a proposal to limit individuals overdosing from heroin to only two responses by the EMS services to provide Narcan and thus be revived him from an opiate overdose. The city Council states that this is a measure to deal with the financial cost of providing Narcan, which has increased drastically over the last several years due to the opiate epidemic.

Can you imagine what the response would be if a city stated it was going to limit the number of EMS responses  for  an individual with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease who needed to be brought to the emergency room for acute exacerbation, which can be as high as 3.5 per year per individual? I would imagine there would be universal outrage and such a regulation would be considered unthinkable.

And yet, we must ask the question, why is a regulation that would clearly result in the death of a human being considered acceptable? The answer of course, is the stigma that is still alive and well with regard to addictive illness. The belief continues that it is a moral and not a medical issue. That the individual has acted with complete volition and if she or he chose to, they could simply stop. This despite all of the research and evidence on the functions of the brain which clearly show that addictive illness is a result of brain chemistry and functioning.
So, the work of Marty Mann's mission is as vital today as it was 70 years ago. This is the work of the individuals who have volunteered as NCADD-NJ Advocacy Partners and Leaders.  They have generously donated their time and energy to carry NCADD's message to the public and policymakers in order to reduce the stigma here in New Jersey.

We need to continue to work together to establish an environment where it would be unthinkable for any town in the state of New Jersey to remotely consider such an ordinance as that in Middleton Ohio. We have already had an impact on policy and New Jersey, but we need to remain active and vigilant so that attitudes and beliefs don't slide back to the old stigmatizing and blaming viewpoints. 

We have put a face and voice on recovery in New Jersey and we at NCADD-NJ are incredibly grateful to those who have stepped forward and accomplished this. Hopefully together we can continue to move the tide of public opinion towards compassion, understanding, and help towards individuals and families affected by addictive illness.

Wayne E. Wirta 
President/ CEO 

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to Lead White House Opiate Task Force- Reposted

March 30, 2017
~ Aaron Kucharski, Facing Addiction’s Grassroots Coordinator
As a person in long term recovery from addiction since September 62003, 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.
Originally posted on

Thursday, March 09, 2017

NCADD-NJ’s Testimony on the Proposed Fiscal Year 2018 State Budget Delivered to the Assembly and Senate Budget Committees

From:  Edward Martone, Policy Analyst
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence - New Jersey

Over the past several years, this Legislature and Governor have taken significant, substantive initiatives to retard the on-going tragedy of addictions. Much of that effort has been reflected in the annual outlays in the state’s Budget. And yet the crisis deepens.

One has a choice of dreadful statistics to pick from. Opioid deaths in the nation have surpassed 30,000 per annum. This represents a nearly 75 percent rise since 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control. As recently as 2007, gun homicides outnumbered heroin deaths by more than 5 to 1. The latter has now eclipsed the former.

This Legislature and Governor have heroically extended the use of naloxone, enhanced the reimbursement rates for inpatient drug therapy, allowed more people to benefit from the Medicaid program, mandated recovery housing on college and university campuses, established a recovery high school structure, instituted both the needle exchange and drug court projects statewide, among other measures adopted to do battle with this scourge.

This Legislature and Governor understand well, that addressing behavioral health issues would take some of the stress from other government services. Beyond the moral imperative to assist our brothers and sisters in crisis, an investment in initiatives that lessen the destructive ramifications of addictive behavioral will permit us to spend less on law enforcement, prisons, and social services.

There remains the risk of the limited resources of the state being overwhelmed by the need. Also, the block granting, and repeals being deliberated upon in Washington, D. C. for the ACA, Medicaid and healthcare funding in general, hang ominously over the proceedings here in the Garden State. New Jersey’s government may well find itself forced to backfill cuts to worthy programs that are being jeopardized by “repeal and replace” shenanigans in our country’s capital.

The NCADD-NJ organization, along with its 1,000 Advocate Leaders, strongly support many of the proposals in the 2018 state Budget, including: the expansion ($2.8m)of the extant Recovery Coach program from its current five counties to eleven, the opening of a 696 bed facility ($2m) at the former Mid State prison to provide drug and alcohol treatment to many in our state’s correctional system, an additional $12m to house 18 and 19 year-olds struggling with addictions, an allotment of $1m to $1.5m for college recovery dorms, an allocation of $5m for the statewide enhancement of a successful pilot project that provides telehealth hubs with a psychiatrist on call for pediatricians to receive training on screening children for behavioral health and substance misuse conditions, $136m (largely from federal sources) to continue improved Medicaid reimbursement rates for behavioral health services, and $64m in new monies for Drug Courts.

Although not appearing as a line item within the extant proposal upon which you are deliberating, the Governor’s suggestion offered in his Budget Address calling for hundreds of millions of dollars drawn from Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield’s $2.4b in reserves deserves careful consideration and may well be a mechanism for stepping up the state’s response to the opioid epidemic.

Finally, I’d like to call your attention to pending legislation that seeks no expenditure of state funds, but which would reinforce long-term recovery from addictions. A.3684 would direct the Department of Human Services to facilitate the establishment of four new peer-to-peer Recovery Community Centers. The state presently has two publicly-funded and two privately-funded facilities.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

The NJ Budget is not just about money

Every year, the NJ Senate and Assembly Budget Committees hold public hearings and work to approve the Governor’s proposed budget typically released in his annual Budget Address.  You can read the entire text of the speech here if you missed it on February 28th

Now it is our turn as advocates to have our voices heard.  The NJ Senate and Assembly Budget Committee hearings are a unique opportunity for you to tell your story.  NCADD-NJ has sent over 70 advocates to testify at these hearings in the past, and has submitted many written testimonies as well. 
When we typically think of the word “budget” we tend to think of money.  Let’s put that aside for a minute and think of it in the context of our individual or family budgets.  You have a certain amount of money, and you need to prioritize how you spend.   A budget could go towards rent/mortgage, food, dining out, household bills, gifts for family, gasoline and the list goes on. 

The NJ Legislature needs to see that funding addiction prevention, treatment, family and recovery support works, just the same way as when you pay your electric bill you want to see that light in your house go on.  The budget is all about prioritizing.

In the Governor’s State of the State he made it clear what his priority would be for the remainder of his term.  Here are just a few quotes from the speech

“Our state faces a crisis which is more urgent to New Jersey's families than any other issue we could confront. A crisis which is destroying families. One that is ripping the very fabric of our state. The crisis of drug addiction.”

“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.”

“According to the Surgeon General, an American dies every 19 minutes from an overdose of heroin or prescription opioids.”

Mary Forsberg, formerly of the NJ Policy Perspective gave some encouraging but cautionary words in her Advocacy Guide to the Budget titled ‘The 800- Page Gorilla’ when she states “A friendly supporter in the right place can make it happen.  And if you make it into the Governor’s proposal you are in great shape.  Once you make it into the Governor’s budget, you are rarely taken out, though in times of a declining economy new programs that have yet to develop a strong constituency can be among the first to be removed by the Legislature”.  I could not agree more, and this even furthers the point that our community needs to show up in numbers, with our stories and ideas, to make addiction the number one priority in the state.

You can register here online (earlier the better) at any one of these public hearings in March 

Mary went on to say that “Quite often, the hearings are the most productive part of the process for smaller advocates, particularly those who can tell a story and elicit sympathy.”

This anecdotal strategy is the core of the NCADD-NJ advocacy program.  Our Advocacy Organizers even help you shape your testimony with helpful talking points if needed. 

Here are just a few of the programs funded over the past few years with good advocacy and a Governor that understands addiction as a preventable and treatable health condition.

  • ·         A massive drug court expansion for all 21 NJ counties
  • ·         Accepting federal funds to expand health coverage through Medicaid
  • ·         Continued expansion of services in the children’s system of care
  • ·         Increased funding for treatment by $127 million dollars for behavioral health providers
  • ·         Expanded use of naloxone (opiate blocker) in every NJ County and training for law enforcement.
  • ·         $2.3 million in new funding to improve the way the State delivers services to people with drug addiction, moving away from fragmented treatment options to a single point of entry.
  • ·         Reopening the Mid State Correctional Facility dedicated for inmates struggling with addiction
  • ·         Recovery Coach Pilot Programs in hospitals

Here are a few of the Governor’s proposals this year for the budget.

  • ·         $2.8 million in funding to continue supporting the Recovery Coach Program
  • ·         $64 million to ensure the continued success of the NJ Drug Court program.
  • ·         Increasing funding by $1 million for college housing programs set up for students in recovery. 
  • ·         $12 million investment for residential services within the Department of Children and Families to allow 18-19 year old young adults to receive substance use services in their facilities.
  • ·         Increased funding for treatment by $127 million dollars for behavioral health providers.
  • ·         $5 million for the statewide expansion of a program aimed at improving the capability of primary care physicians to screen, care for, manage and increase access to mental health services for children with behavioral health conditions and addiction issues.

NCADD-NJ encourages our citizen advocates to tell your story and advocate to better the chances to prevent, treat, and recover from addiction.

-Aaron Kucharski, NCADD-NJ Advocacy Coordinator

Monday, January 30, 2017

State of the State Address Offers Hope for Addiction Recovery

My name is Mariel Hufnagel. I am a certified yoga teacher and a competitive runner; I love sushi; and during my spare time can be found traveling, meditating, on the beach, drinking black coffee or laughing and snuggling with my amazing husband Anthony. I am also a formerly incarcerated convicted felon, formerly homeless and a sex trafficking survivor. I battled with alcohol and drug addiction, bipolar disorder and bulimia nervosa for most of my teenage years – entered recovery in May 2007 at the age of 21 and have maintained abstinence-based long-term recovery ever since. Since 2012 in an effort to face addiction – as well as demand the social rights of those who suffer and those who have lost their battle and those in recovery – I have immersed myself wholeheartedly in mental health, addiction and criminal justice reform advocacy.  I believe in health equity and a person-centered system of care.  I am employed full-time as an Advocacy Organizer with the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence – New Jersey (NCADD-NJ), where we run a statewide Advocacy Leadership Program.

The NCADD-NJ Advocacy Leadership Program started in 2008 and is a network of volunteer advocates, invested in promoting addiction as a public health issue. Our advocates are organized regionally throughout the state, working locally in their communities to educate and bring awareness to the public and decision makers surrounding addiction prevention, treatment and recovery support services. We believe that Electoral Politics, Public Policy, and Grassroots Community Organizing must be woven together in order to create social change. When these elements are working in harmony we can sustain change over the long haul with the help of developing a critical mass of diverse leaders in every community in New Jersey.

On January 10, 2017 something colossal occurred. Our Governor dedicated the majority of his State of the State Address to addiction. As a New Jersey resident, voter, and advocate I am overwhelmed and hopeful. Many of the things that Governor Chris Christie spoke of during his address are issues and solutions which NCADD-NJ Advocates have relentlessly fought for since 2010. There is a deep sense of satisfaction knowing that our voices are being heard and that we have become a constituency of consequence.  Patience, relentless advocacy and training, stigma reduction, and working with community decision makers is a process but a process that clearly can lead to results.

During Christie’s speech, he covered the importance of a robust continuum of care, speaking about improving prevention, treatment and recovery support services. Some of his major points were:
  • ·         The absolute need for evidence-based practices for prevention
  • ·         Monitoring and curtailing the overprescribing of narcotic pain medication
  • ·         The horrendous lack of beds available and the need of treatment on demand
  • ·         Insurance companies, medical necessity and behavioral health insurance equality
  • ·         Recovery housing for those in early recovery and those attending college
  • ·         NIMBY (“not in my backyard” mentality)

He clearly addressed how untreated addiction is not only killing people, ruining lives and tearing families apart – but he spoke about the fiscal impact of untreated addiction, and the way it touches all other areas - the criminal justice, education, healthcare systems and so much more. New data shows the number of heroin and opiate-related deaths in New Jersey only continues to skyrocket, and is currently at more than twice the national average. In my opinion, the one thing that Christie missed in his speech was talking about the vital need for Peer-to-Peer recovery centers in this continuum of care. Recovery Centers provide a safe, healthy, educational and fun environment for people in recovery to grow and thrive – which increases one’s ability to maintain and sustain long-term recovery, thus reducing relapse rates and in turn stemming the tide of addiction. Without this vital piece of the puzzle we will never reach our desired outcomes.
Only 13 days after his address, Christie has already drafted and delivered proposed legislation. This to me speaks very loudly about his delivery. As noted on the Governor’s website, the proposed legislation is very aggressive and carries multiple provisions, including but not limited to:

•    “No one will be turned away for insurance reasons from treatment if a licensed provider prescribes substance abuse disorder treatment.
•    Insurance coverage for treatment of a substance abuse disorder will be required and any waiting period that could derail a person’s recovery will be eliminated.
•    No longer will lives be put at risk by layers of needless bureaucracy; people diagnosed with a substance use disorder will have covered treatment for 180 days, starting the day they need it, including long term out-patient treatment with no interference from their carrier.
•    Covered medication-assisted treatments will be required to be provided without the imposition of prior approval from a carrier.
•    Onerous pre-payment obligations imposed by providers will be prohibited, and instead, patients will only be required to pay their copayment, deductible or co-insurance for their treatment.
•    In addition, treatment for substance use disorders must be covered by the carrier to the same extent as any other covered medical condition without increased copayments, deductibles or co-insurance.
•    The Office of Attorney General will be tasked with monitoring this system to prevent waste, fraud or abuse, and to ensure providers are not improperly treating patients or filling beds that could be used by others in need of treatment.”

With this speech and this new draft legislation, we can see a way to save lives through Public Policy that provides vision, direction and an agenda; Electoral Politics which determines who makes decisions and holds them accountable; and Grassroots Community Organizing which builds a constituency that fights for change. Although we have a long way to go, New Jersey is ahead of the curve and on the cusp of truly changing the way that addiction is viewed and treated.

I think what Christie has proposed is a tall-order and I fear that during his last term, due to bureaucracy (not intention), that he simply may not be able to accomplish it all. This means that New Jerseyans must pay attention to the upcoming gubernatorial election, and ensure that our next Governor is equally as vested in this. Now more than ever, we need people to stand up and speak out about addiction… humanizing it and breaking stigma, while simultaneously demanding that it is treated as a health condition. 

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

View the full State of the State Address here: