Monday, July 29, 2019

SUMMER DAZE



Just before it’s Summer break, the N.J. Legislature tackled a sizable number of bills of relevance to behavioral health activists. There is much to report on as the severity of the opioid epidemic has continued to garner the attention of the media, decision-makers, and the public-at-large. The enormity of the crisis has also altered the way in which many policy-makers regard those individuals seeking long-term recovery. In just the past few years, recovery activists went from gadflies trying to get officials to pay attention, to experts, whose misfortunes have sadly made them the sought-out ones who can often best inform the public discourse on practical solutions.

Some of the legislative proposals that have been enacted in to law during the past few months, include:

A.542/S.1830 – Requires high schools to stock opioid overdose reversal drugs, authorizes school nurses to administer, and provides them with legal indemnification
A.4744/S.3314 – Mandates that the N.J. Dept. of Human Services ensure medication assisted treatment benefits under the Medicaid program are provided without the imposition of prior authorization strictures
A.3292/S.2244 – Requires that all opioid prescriptions include a warning sticker advising patients of the risk of addiction and overdose
S.1339/A.2031 – Requires health insurance plans to pay for behavioral health care on a par with the manner in which they compensate for physical/medical health services
A.4498/S.3205 – Permits that a marijuana possession conviction of five pounds or less, be eligible for expungement. The new law additionally creates an expedited expungement process for certain marijuana-related offenses and offers a “clean slate” expungement to individuals with multiple convictions who have been out of the criminal justice system for at least ten years.

Other measures that have moved through various stages of the legislative process, and could be further acted upon before the current Assembly and Senate Term ends on Jan. 7, 2020, include:

S.938/A.3064 – Would require nursing homes to provide training to staff in behavioral health issues
SJR94/AJR70 – Would establish a one-year commission to examine the best ways to address the issue of people who repeatedly endure opioid overdoses and revivals
A.4150/S.2742 – Would require a meeting between a student and appropriate school personnel after multiple suspensions or a proposed expulsion from public school to identify behavior or health difficulties
A.3955/S.624 – Would limit private patient information behavioral health care providers may disclose to insurance carriers
S.3813/A.5510 – Would expand the Law Against Discrimination to provide that it will be unlawful for any entity that operates a health program to discriminate against an individual on the basis of the person being a member of a protected class
S.2332/A.3755 – Would allow persons with one or two convictions involving third and fourth degree aggravated assault to be eligible for Drug Court. Would also permit eligibility for individuals with older, multiple criminal convictions that are at least five years old, if the court determines that the program would be beneficial
A.4652/S3198 – Would allow for the reduction of court-ordered fines for individuals who successfully complete Drug Court
S.3857/A.5459 – Would mandate that healthcare professionals receive training in best practices in the care of pregnant women with respect to prescription opioids
A.5425/S.4021 – Would provide that no substance use disorder treatment facility shall pay or otherwise furnish any fee, commission, or rebate to any person to refer patients to the facility for therapy or services
S.3808/A.5506 – Would obligate basic health insurance plans offered in the state, to cover “essential health services.” These services include therapy for substance misuse and mental health disorders.
S.626/A.1733 – Would impose a prohibition on preexisting condition exclusions in health insurance policies
A.5501/S.3802 – Would require the continuation of health benefits dependent coverage until the child turns 26 years of age
S.824/A.2089 – Would replace the current mandate for a suspended license in the case of a first-time drunk driving offense with a required utilization of an Ignition Interlock Devise (IID) on the offender’s vehicle – Also establishes a category of “drugged driver” and provides for similar penalties

For more information about these bills, visit www.njleg.stste.nj.us

All of this leaves still more measures that might move after the Legislature’s Summer Break and before the current Term ends at the close of the year. Some of the topic areas include:

*Insurance parity-related protections, e.g. creation of a behavioral healthcare Ombudsperson position, health insurance network adequacy, and other parity-implementation and access to care initiatives
*Require public and private high schools to annually conduct written or verbal screenings of all students to identify early substance use
*Expand the right to vote to persons incarcerated, and on probation or parole
*Mandate that a portion of forfeited assets in certain drug cases be directed to fund drug treatment
*Require insurance carriers to reimburse for Suboxone and Subutex
*Designate sober living homes as beneficial uses in the context of the Municipal Land Use Act
*Improve performance standards for non-emergency medical transport provided under Medicaid
*Allow individuals who complete a drug court program to qualify for a casino employee’s license
*Mandate that colleges and universities maintain a supply of an opioid antidote
And many more…

Ed Martone
Policy Analyst

Friday, July 12, 2019

LETS TALK CO-OCCURING


In 2012 I was encouraged to get involved with NCADD-NJ by a group of women who founded Parent To Parent in 1997.  These women were pioneers when it came to advocating as parents. They understood that the family’s voice was powerful in creating change and encouraged me to speak out.  They also recognized the power of many voices coming together and the importance of messaging.  They were courageous, kind and compassionate but the stories showed strength and people listened.

“Our Stories Have Power” was the first training I attended at NCADD-NJ. The room was filled with a combination of people in recovery and family members. In some cases, they were there together which gave me hope for my own son’s recovery.  We learned together and worked on writing our stories using language that seemed uncomfortable at the time. I struggled to write my story even though I had already been speaking out in my community.  Years later, person first language is natural and my story has evolved.

When an advocate becomes a team leader our work is recognized by in a Joint Legislative Resolution addressed to the individual advocate. In 2013, a mistake was made and all of the advocates’ names were on one document. We were given individual Resolutions later but I love that all 39 are listed on the original Resolution.  Many are still very active in advocacy in one way or another. It’s a pretty impressive list that shows the diversity of the NCADD-NJ advocates.

For years it was much easier and acceptable for families to speak out about treatment, recovery support and stigma than for someone in recovery to tell their story. Some continued to judge families but others felt compassion and they were willing to listen. Fortunately the recovery community has been empowered through advocacy work.  We welcome their voices and their stories but we cannot forget the power of our own stories.

Families have their own experiences in discrimination, isolation and a lack of access to resources and support. We also get well and it’s important that we talk about our own challenges and path to recovery. It can be uncomfortable and seem unnatural to talk about us but our stories make a difference and many changes begin with a family member advocating for a solution.  

The very first legislation I advocated for was the Overdose Prevention Act.  Working with advocates across the state on a bill that has literally saved thousands of lives in NJ was life changing.  Parents had a strong voice in the fight for a law that may have saved their child or could save the life of someone they love. Although all advocates worked on the legislation it was a parent’s story that seemed to energize the bill. Even when the signing was delayed, it was Bon Jovi, speaking out as a parent that pushed Governor Christie to sign the bill into law without further delay.

 “Our Stories Have Power” training is now scheduled throughout NJ to make it easier to attend. I encourage families to take advantage of the training. Learning how to tell our own stories not only makes a difference but can help us in our own recovery.

Tonia Ahern
NCADD-NJ Advocacy Field Organizer