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