Tuesday, March 31, 2020

ONE LONG EMERGENCY


The following is the testimony I submitted to the NJ Senate and Assembly Budget and Appropriations Committees on March 10 and March 18, 2020 addressing the Fiscal Year 2021 State Budget.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence - NJ is an incorporated non-profit organization operating in the Garden State since 1982. NCADD-NJ works in partnership with, and on behalf of, individuals, families, and communities affected by alcoholism and drug dependence, to promote recovery. We have been working for more than thirty five years to reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with addictive illness. We have been a strong advocate for public policies that increase access to quality treatment and recovery services.

NCADD-NJ also operates the Substance Abuse Initiative and Behavioral Health Initiative (SAI/BHI) to help implement the Work First New Jersey welfare-to-work program funded by the NJ Dept. of Human Services. The goal of the SAI/BHI is to eliminate addiction as a barrier to employment.
The NJ Division of Family Development funds our Family Violence Option project. The purpose of the FVO program is to afford protection to domestic violence victims who are receiving General Assistance or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families help.
We also provide substance misuse assessments for youth under the supervision of the NJ Juvenile Justice Commission. This assessment further includes level of care placement recommendations.

NCADD-NJ encourages the Legislature to support Governor Phil Murphy’s proposal of $100m dedicated to fund the prevention and treatment of addiction disorders, along with the recovery of its survivors. This would represent the third year in a row of a commitment in this amount. Earlier investments have slowed and somewhat reversed the scourge of opioid misuse, however, the level of devastation created by this illness remains unacceptable. A diminution of our efforts to fight it, will only ensure too many more victims.

2020 will be the first full year of parity implementation. Last year the Legislature and Governor endorsed a new law requiring health plans sold in this state to document full compliance with established principle that coverage for medical and surgical treatment, be on a par with that for behavioral care. The NJ Dept. of Banking and Insurance was tasked with monitoring and enforcing the parity statute. We urge the Legislature and Governor to fully fund the Department’s assignment to inform the public, treatment providers and insurance carriers of the new provisions of the parity law, along with the need to retain some additional staff to carry out the Department’s enforcement mandate.  

The NJ Dept. of Human Services has announced a number of initiatives in the coming year to combat addiction disease. All of these are supported by NCADD-NJ, and the Legislature is asked to include them in the state Budget. These include:
  • Following up on the statewide distribution last June 18th of 32,000 free dosages of the opioid overdose reversal drug, naloxone – in 2020, the Department intends to give out 53,000 doses to police officers, 2000 to homeless shelters, and 400 to public libraries.
  •          The REACH NJ hotline is being re-tooled. Among the changes will be the provision that a caller receive live assistance, rather than a recording. Billboard and television ads are now up promoting the revised hotline.
  •          $1.7m is being allotted to certain counties as part of the “Innovation Projects” effort, with, hopefully, more to follow.
  •          It is anticipated that reimbursement rates will be raised for integrated care management and residential treatment slots.
  • Initially, $7.8m has been made available to county jails across the state to initiate opioid therapy in jails and to connect individuals to community-based care post release. This pilot should be expanded upon, in order that every lock up facility has medication assisted treatment, Medicaid enrollment, and post release aftercare programs in place.

NCADD-NJ has been pleased overall with the refined response to the opioid epidemic of the past two governors and members of the Senate and Assembly. The changed thinking of our policy makers toward addiction as a public health, rather than a criminal justice problem, has allowed for a more sophisticated and effective approach toward solutions.

Monday, March 09, 2020

REBOUND, RESTORE


The problem of addiction and, in particular, the carnage created by the opioid epidemic, continued to present itself as the worst public health issue of the past few years. The crisis garnered much of the public’s elected representatives’ attention, and the state Legislature and Governor enacted a number of mostly positive proposals in the law by the recently concluded 2018/19 Legislative Term.
The following were signed in to law:

* S.626 – Disallows health insurance plans to deny coverage due to preexisting conditions
* A.5248 and A.5506 – Requires health insurance plans to cover essential behavioral health services
* A.5501 – Mandates a continuation of health benefits dependent coverage until child turns 26 years of age
* S.824 – Eliminates driver license suspension for first DUI offense, but mandates the installation of an ignition interlock device
* A.2031 – Enhances enforcement of parity laws that mandate that health plans reimburse for behavioral healthcare on a par with the manner in which coverage for medical and surgical services is offered
* S.2861 – Requires health curriculum for public school students in grades kindergarten through 12 to include instruction on mental health and substance disorders
* A.3292 – Requires that opioid prescriptions include a warning sticker advising patients of the risks of addiction and overdose
* A.4744 – Requires the N.J. Dept. of Human Services to ensure that medication assisted treatment benefits in the Medicaid program are provided without the imposition of prior authorization strictures
* A.5823 – Removes the prohibition on voting by persons convicted of indictable offenses who are on probation or parole
* A.268 – “P.I.C.K. Awareness Act;” authorizes the issuance of special support recovery housing license plates

A number of criminal justice, penal reform and expungement measures were signed in to law, including:

* A.3979 – “Dignity for Incarcerated Primary Caretaker Parents Act”
* S.2055 – Permits incarcerated individuals to receive student financial aid

In almost every instance, people in recovery and their families provided their uniquely valuable perspective in crafting these policies.

Ed Martone, 
Policy Analyst