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.