Pubdate: Mon, 28 Apr 2014
Source: Asbury Park Press (NJ)
Copyright: 2014 Asbury Park Press
Author: Dustin Racioppi


Lawmakers Question Christie's Drug Abuse Aide

TRENTON - The Governor's Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse spent 
two years gathering and analyzing data, taking heart-wrenching 
testimony from families who lost loved ones to drug abuse and writing 
a hefty report on New Jersey's heroin crisis.

And now comes the hard part: Taking the recommendations of the 
88-page report and putting them into action in a state low on cash 
and resistant to increasing treatment outside the cities to the suburbs.

In an appearance before the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior 
Citizens Committee on Monday, the council's acting executive 
director, Celina Gray, spoke about the report and faced some tough 
questions from committee members who say they are determined not to 
let the state's work fade with the report's release.

"Hopefully this committee and other legislators are taking a very 
in-depth and serious look at this, along with all the other groups, 
because I'm never going to let y'all off the hook," said state Sen. 
Ronald L. Rice, D-Essex.

The report, issued last month by a council task force, made 18 
recommendations to combat the crisis. Many of them - such as 
increasing treatment, opening a "recovery high school" and educating 
the public - cost money. Although Gov. Chris Christie has budgeted to 
expand drug courts in recent years, there has not been money left for 
much else. Christie also has said he believes that the private sector 
should, and will, fill the need for treatment in New Jersey, where 
options are few.

Gray said several initiatives already are in the works: establishing 
a "warmline" for information on opiate abuse and treatment; updating 
school curriculum to more accurately reflect drug abuse in New 
Jersey; and a publicity campaign on opiate abuse with an emphasis on 
stripping addiction of its stigma, which has become a barrier for 
establishing new treatment centers in communities across the state, 
committee members said.

"Addiction is a disease affecting real people," Gray told the 
committee, and urged "that we stop objectifying them by calling them 
addicts. They're people living and struggling with a disease."

Sen. Robert W. Singer, R-Ocean, said he hopes the treatment gap will 
be closed in the next 10 to 20 years. One of the goals of the report 
is to break down the not-in-my-backyard mentality for treatment centers.

"It's a crisis situation in suburbia that's getting frighteningly 
worse," Singer said.

Rice said he is bothered by just that. When people were dying from 
heroin in urban areas, he said, "nobody really gave a damn."

Rice said he hopes the state will spend money on expanding treatment 
and that the council will work with the Legislature to find 
evidence-based solutions to the crisis.

Chairman Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, said that is his goal moving forward, too.

"I'm really past the balloons and the confetti and the puppies and 
the 'Just Say No' stuff," he said. "It just doesn't work."
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