Friday, May 03, 2019

ITS NICE TO WIN ONE …


Every once in awhile. The latest victory for people and their loved ones in the challenge to attain, and maintain, long-term sobriety, culminated in Governor Phil Murphy affixing his signature to the Parity Bill on April 11. The legislation had been a priority for the NCADD-NJ Advocates, staff and partners for many years. NCADD-NJ has convened and hosted the NJ Parity Coalition for some time, and efforts intensified with the introduction of Senate Bill 1339 and Assembly Bill 2031. The measure requires insurance carriers to document steps they’ve taken to ensure their health plans are in compliance with existing federal and state parity laws. These health insurance policies would not be available for sale to the public without demonstrated assurance that the plans are parity-compliant.

For more than ten years, federal law has mandated that health insurance policies reimburse for mental health and substance use treatment on a par with the manner in which there is reimbursement for physical, medical and surgical conditions. The responsibility for implementing these requirements, however, was given largely to the states. In the Garden State, the responsibility falls mostly to the Department of Banking and Insurance (DOBI). The Dept. must audit the plans, collect relevant data, determine compliance, report annually to the Governor and Legislature as to their findings, and place all relevant information that would be helpful to consumers on its public website. Up to now, the process was complaint-driven. Consumers would have to appeal an insurance denial, become conversant in parity strictures, non-quantitative and non-qualitative treatment limits, and essentially become insurance regulations experts. On June 11, when the new law takes effect, it would be the obligation of insurance experts at DOBI to certify that health insurance plans that are sold in the state guarantee to offer what is advertised.

The enactment of this new statute is the fulfillment of the quest of families who’ve been denied therapy coverage, service providers who’ve been prevented from delivering needed treatment to their clients in need, and to social justice advocates from every corner of the state. More than once during his remarks at the Parity Bill Signing Ceremony, Governor Murphy thanked the advocates “who got this bill to me.” This illuminates the point, that little gets through the public policy process without the dedicated efforts of citizen-advocates who draw attention to a problem, devise a solution, and press decision-makers to be responsive. It was encouraging to note that the Commissioners of the Departments of Human Services and Banking and Insurance were also present at the April 11 event and pledged to ensure that the mandates of the parity measure would be assertively enforced. Marlene Caride, DOBI Commissioner, announced she would begin the work with a statewide series of hearings to elicit from consumers their parity-related complaints and suggestions.

To ensure the new law is not a “dead letter,” NCADD-NJ and its partners in the NJ Parity Coalition, know the next steps will be to monitor and influence its enforcement. We will participate in the DOBI Listening Tour and assist in collecting relevant data. We will involve ourselves in the “rule-making” process at DOBI of promulgating the requisite regulations to implement the parity statute. We will assist DOBI in designing an audit of the insurance plans to collect the most relevant data on parity compliance. And we will join in a public education campaign to let individuals and businesses know of the protections of this new law.

The enactment of the parity bill is a superior achievement for NCADD-NJ Advocates who called the Governor’s Office, communicated with their elected officials, testified at public hearings, and spoke publicly in the press, all about the need for this reform. 

You can see the signing here:


Ed Martone
Policy Analyst 
NCADD-NJ


Thursday, April 25, 2019

Alcoholism: The Silent Epidemic



April, being Alcohol Awareness Month, I thought it appropriate to say a few words about alcoholism and alcohol use issues. For the last several years, opiate overdose deaths have made the headlines at the national, state, and local level. And rightfully so. In 2017 there were 1,969 deaths due to opiate overdose in the state of New Jersey. This has resulted in a lot of attention and resources being put into combating the opiate addiction problem.


However, during that same period of time, 1761 individuals died from alcohol related causes. Nationally, alcohol these reached a 35 year high in 2014 with close to 90,000 deaths related to alcohol misuse or alcoholism, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These statistics show that in 2014 more people died from alcohol induced causes than from overdoses of prescription painkillers and heroin combined.

Later figures show that the number of deaths caused by alcoholism and alcohol misuse is not significantly different from that of opiate overdose. So why is it that there is not more attention given to the problems around alcohol? One reason, and possibly the biggest reason, is that death from alcohol misuse is gradual and the primary causes of death are often listed as liver disease, throat cancer, pancreatitis, and other alcohol related illnesses. These deaths are not as visible as opiate overdose deaths. Of course, alcohol related accidents are not gradual and we hear of many tragic traffic deaths due to drunk driving, as well as boating accidents, falls, drownings, and other mishaps caused by intoxication. Once again, alcohol is not identified as the fatal cause.

So, alcoholism and alcohol misuse problems are not as visible and as “in-your-face” as opiate overdoses. And I certainly don’t want to take away from the tragedy experienced by families who lose someone suddenly to an opiate overdose. But at the same time we must not ignore or forget the impact that alcoholism and alcohol misuse have on individuals and families.

In speaking with friends and acquaintances it is difficult to find anyone who does not have alcoholism or alcohol misuse somewhere in their immediate or extended family. Both of my grandfathers had alcohol issues and their deaths were related to their alcohol problems. I think there was a statistic years ago that showed that four out of five individuals had alcoholism somewhere in their extended family.

So, in this time of Alcohol Awareness Month, it’s helpful to examine the impact that alcoholism and alcohol misuse has in our society and to begin to focus some attention to this other epidemic. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

BUILDING ON EARLY SUCCESSES



 I had the opportunity in March to testify on the proposed state Budget before the Assembly and Senate Appropriations Committees. Even in years with good economies (2019 being one), to me they’re a heartbreaking exercise as there is never enough funding available to even come close to sufficiently supporting all of the worthy functions people rely upon. So the hearings are less an examination of state revenue and expenditures, and more a conga line of school children, library directors, head-injured youngsters, harried commuters, and people with developmental disabilities, among many, many others, pleading with legislators to mitigate or restore cuts to their noble programs. Some Assembly and Senate members have spoken of how helpful they find the Budget Public Hearings, feeling that they make them aware of the needs of the folks toiling in the trenches. Instructive as they may be, it must be equally frustrating for these stewards of the public purse to have to tell their constituents “no” or “maybe next year.”

By comparison, the standing of those struggling with addictions in these proceedings is greatly improved over the light in which their needs were viewed even just a few years ago. When an addiction disorder was seen as a sin, those affected could be disregarded. Now, with the general understanding that what we’re dealing with is an illness, most policy makers want to be helpful rather than dismissive, or even contemptuous. Consequently, budget testimony can be one of calls to fund new programs and to enhance existing ones with a record of success.

* The NJ Department of Human Services has recently awarded one-time grants of $100,000 to peer-operated recovery community centers in each of three counties (Warren, Sussex and Atlantic). These are in addition to existing ones in Camden and Passaic counties. As welcome as these projects are, they are time-limited steps that do not entirely ensure long-term sustainability. These community centers provide a valuable oasis for many seeking to maintain recovery.

* I was pleased that Governor Phil Murphy proposed renewing the $100m allotment to projects that do battle with the opioid epidemic.

* Given the prevalence of the co-occurring maladies of mental health and substance use disorders among the majority of people struggling with behavioral health issues, initiatives within the NJ Department of Human Services ought to be fully supported.

* Recovery coach programs have enjoyed large acceptance just in the last couple of years. They are examples of peer-driven solutions that should receive strong budgetary support from the state.

* The state is on the threshold of enacting legislation to more completely implement the promise of parity. Insurance plans must ensure they cover behavioral health on a par with the manner in which they reimburse for physical care, in order for policies to be sold to consumers in the state. The NJ Department of Banking and Insurance should receive whatever modest appropriation necessary for it to enforce parity requirements.

Having heard from the public, the Budget Committees will next receive input from Cabinet members as to the needs of each of their departments. Following that, the legislators themselves will deliberate on the final ingredients and parameters of the state Budget which must, as constitutionally mandated, be adopted by July 1.

Ed Martone, Policy Analyst
NCADD-NJ

Monday, February 04, 2019

Handed the Torch: Changing Seasons and Advocacy Coordinators


 2018 was been a busy year for our NCADD-NJ Advocacy Teams, and looking ahead to the coming year we have no plans for stopping the momentum.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their warm welcome as I adjust to the role of Advocacy Coordinator. As an NCADD-NJ Advocate for 6 years, I knew that Aaron Kucharski had made a tremendous impact on countless advocates across the state, myself included, and that taking over his role would be a large task. My background and experience in addiction and recovery have prepared me well for this position, and it is an honor to continue working with a program that has played such a pivotal role in developing a recovery-ready New Jersey.

Six years ago I was introduced to NCADD-NJ through a training held at Living Proof Recovery Center in Voorhees, NJ. I was an employee at LPRC (one of 3 employees at the time: today there are more than 12), that helped plan and launch the second state-funded, peer-led recovery center in the state. Part of my job was to book recovery-oriented events, and a training entitled “Our Stories Have Power” was one of them. This training was a major turning point in my own recovery, and in my professional path.

I approached Aaron after the training to thank him and to let him know what a profound impact the last 2 hours had on me.  I asked him directly: “How do I get your job?” We laughed about it then, and we continue to laugh about it today. This introduction to advocacy, and the power of language in recovery, woke something up inside me. It would send me on a journey that culminated in receiving the answer to the question I asked Aaron 6 years ago.

Since entering the recovery field, I have held various positions that have prepared me for a launch into full time advocacy work. I spent several years with a Program of Assertive Community Treatment (PACT) team, where we assisted people with mental illness/addiction diagnoses directly in their communities and homes. When the OORP (Opioid Overdose Recovery Program) grants were distributed I launched the program in Gloucester County, and oversaw expansion into 2 additional hospitals in Camden County, bringing the number of programs in the county to 3. I returned to school and was trained as an addictions counselor, and have worked in this capacity at several treatment facilities in New Jersey. I am a trainer in SBIRT (Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment), as well as a certified trainer for the CPRS (Certified Peer Recovery Specialist) certification in New Jersey. My recovery has been blessed with these opportunities to become a well-rounded addictions professional; these experiences also have shown me the many gaps in services, education, and opportunities available for those in, and seeking, recovery, as well as their families. I bring a slightly different perspective to our Advocacy Program, but I hope to be able to use my experiences to assist our Advocacy Teams in addressing the issues within their communities.

The power of grassroots advocacy cannot be denied. When I started as an NCADD-NJ Advocate, our primary focus was getting police to carry naloxone, and to get rid of the statute that prohibited EMTs from administering the same medication. It is hard to believe that this was a mere 6 years ago. We have come a long way, but must recognize that there is still much to be done.

By:

Heather Ogden
Advocacy Coordinator Public Affairs and Policy

National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence - New Jersey