Would the struggle against the crippling effects of addictive behavioral disorders benefit from a consolidating of initiatives coordinated by one person or office? Does the Garden State need a Drug Czar (my term)? There are three bills pending in the state Legislature that would significantly center addiction prevention, treatment and recovery services under one roof. All three are presently receiving committee consideration.
* Assembly Bill 2124 and Senate Bill 2170 would establish an Office of Alcohol and Drug Use Disorders Policy to oversee, direct and coordinate resources, funding and data tracking with all State Departments with regard to the prevention and treatment of alcohol and drug disorders. The Office would be allocated within the Dept. of the Treasury but would be independent of the Dept. and would report directly to the Governor. It would review County Annual Alliance Plans and distribute grants. It would evaluate provider performance and enforce contract compliance. The Office would take over most of the functions of the Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. An Executive Director would be appointed by the Governor with the consent of the Senate.
* Assembly Bill 3364 would create an Office of Alcohol, Drug and Tobacco Use Control Policy in the Dept. of Health. It would develop a strategic plan to reduce use, oversee the collection of data related to youth use, identify the best municipal youth programs, and develop recommendations to improve the safety and effectiveness of acute pain treatment. The Office would apply for grants to fund itself.
* Senate Bill 2079 would create the Office of Coordinated Substance Use Control Policy and Planning in, but not of, the Dept. of Human Services. It is intended that it would be independent of DHS control. The Governor would appoint the Executive Director and his/her Deputy, with Senate consent. The Office would develop a strategic plan, coordinate and oversee all substance use control activities in all state Departments, law enforcement, and local governments, make compliance recommendations, provide agency budget recommendations, audit and evaluate agency performance, biennially review existing laws and regulations to determine consistency with the Strategic Plan, serve as spokesperson for Executive Branch substance use policies, administer appropriate grant programs, assume some of the responsibilities of the current Governor’s Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse including review of County Annual Alliance Plans, examine extant statutes and make recommendations, hire, appoint, transfer agency staff to implement the Strategic Plan, assign funds among agencies, control the use of agency monies, and operate a hotline to assist the public.
Even if it is determined that either of these proposals (or some combination thereof) would improve on the present state of things, would New Jersey government have the will to make it happen? Would the monies be found to carry out this reform in a meaningful way? An argument could be made that every state department should be ready to engage in activities, within its bailiwick, that would help the cause. However, in the world of turf politics, how much authority and funding can it be reasonably expected that extant bureaucracies would voluntarily surrender? And can’t you just hear the howl that would be emitted from the hallowed halls of county and municipal governments when the big toe of state government is seen to be encroaching on its territory?
If this organizational shuffling makes effective sense, then like so many meaningful changes, it will have to be a priority of people seeking long-term recovery and their allies in order to get it enacted.