Pubdate: Wed, 18 Jan 2017
Source: Asbury Park Press (NJ)
Copyright: 2017 Asbury Park Press


Anti-drug advocates hailed Gov. Chris Christie's pledge Tuesday to make
New Jersey's addiction crisis a top job in the final year of his term in
office, but there were worries about funding and follow through.

Using soaring rhetoric, heartfelt personal stories of loss and
unmistakable zeal, the governor used his State of the State address to
outline a series of new initiatives to battle the opioid epidemic that has
devastated New Jersey.

Paul Ressler, who lost his son Corey to a heroin overdose and now runs an
organization that informs the public about the use of the opioid overdose
antidote naloxone, praised the goal of getting more teenagers into
treatment. Christie promised to change state regulations that exclude 18
and 19 year olds from treatment facilities for children.

Christie said changing the rules would make 200 beds statewide available
to addicts in that age group.

Ressler, who also serves as the vice chairman of the board of Daytop New
Jersey, an inpatient residential treatment facility for adolescents with
substance abuse and mental health problems, said the rule as it stands has
kept Daytop from treating more young addicts and has left beds empty.

"We've struggled financially because of it," Ressler said, estimating that
up to 50 percent of beds have been unfilled at times. "This allows us to
do our work. We can get more kids off the streets and into treatment."

Christie committed an additional $12 million of funding to provide those
treatment beds.

Advocates have pushed for the measure for about two years, Ressler said.

Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato, who has initiated programs
through his office to extend treatment to more people, praised the goals
in the speech as "multi-layered and well thought out."

"I'm excited," he said. "Hopefully, the governor is committed to it. He's
going to commit his last year of office to saving lives -- how can you not
endorse that?"

But he also added a dose of reality.

"I want to caution everyone that it's a good step but the road ahead of us
is a long one," he said. "You don't do all this with one shake of the wand
in one year."

(Photo: Asbury Park Press file)

Coronato highlighted Christie's promise to have state Attorney General
Christopher S. Porrino issue a rule that limits initial prescriptions for
opioids to five days, down from 30.

"That's a game changer," Coronato said.

Legislation to limit initial opioid prescriptions has been held up by
Assemblyman Herb Conaway as chair of the Assembly Health and Senior
Services Committee. Conaway, a practicing physician, told the Asbury Park
Press in September he opposed the measure because it may hurt some

Frank Greenagel, an addiction counselor and former chariman of the New
Jersey Task Force on Heroin and Other Opiate Use, said he has seen too
many half measures and broken promises from Christie.

(Photo: Staff photo Tanya Breen/Gannett NJ USA)

"If you weren't aware of the history you'd say, 'My God, the man is a
visionary. He really wants to make a difference,'" Greenagel said. "But
when push comes to shove in going after the pharmaceutical industry or
doctors or funding programs, he doesn't do it."

Greenagel, who oversaw the recovery housing program at Rutgers for five
years as a counselor, pointed to Christie's goal of bringing more recovery
dorms to more colleges. That's on the back of 2015 legislation that
mandated that any college with more than 5,000 students living on campus
in New Jersey must provide such housing for students recovering from drug

The problem with the law is that it had no funding mechanism and gave no
guidance to colleges on how to proceed, he said.

And there are more than a dozen schools in New Jersey that the law applies
to, he said. The $1 million that Christie said he would send to increase
recovery housing stock is too little to have any significant effect,
Greenagel said.

"It's not enough to support current programs and certainly not enough to
establish new programs," he said.

Greenagel said he's aware of at least one program that closed its doors
for a year because its grant ran out.

The goal of changing prevention curriculum in schools to make it age

"I love that," Greenagel said. "But it's something the task force pushed
for in 2012. I liked a lot of what I heard, but a lot of it is
Johnny-come-lately. He loves taking credit for policies and programs
created by people on the front lines or the grass roots level."

The effort to change the regulations concerning the treatment of 18 and 19
year olds is something that Allison Blake, commissioner of the Department
of Children and Families, has been pushing for three years, he said.

But Greenagel, a vocal critic of Christie's efforts against addiction, had
praise for one measure: advocating for a law mandating that no one with
insurance be denied six months of inpatient or outpatient drug treatment.

"I love the fact that he addressed insurance reform," Greenagel said.
"Other states have done it. He's not in the lead. It's about time. But I'm
glad he's doing it."

Ward Sanders, spokesman for the New Jersey Association of Health Plans,
said about the proposal, "New Jersey's health plans provide coverage for
addiction services based on national, evidence-based best practices and
look forward to having a thoughtful dialogue on current guidelines."

(Photo: Bob Karp/Staff Photographer)

Angelo Valente, the executive director of Partnership for a Drug-Free New
Jersey who has worked in the drug prevention field for 26 years, praised
Christie for the passion behind the address.

"He wants to make fighting addiction the cornerstone of his final year,"
he said. "There's no question this was monumental."

Christie's proposals included:

* Setting up what Christie called a "one-stop" web site and hotline for
information on addiction treatment: REACHNJ.GOV or 1-844-REACH-NJ.

* Expanding the Department of Children and Families rules to allow their
licensed residential facilities to treat 18-and 19-year olds as children,
opening some 200 beds. Christie also pledged $12 million.

* Tailoring new drug prevention curriculum in schools to students of
different ages.

* Limiting hurdles to create a more flexible environment that encourages
Cooperative Sober Living Homes in New Jersey, as proposed by Sen. Joe
Vitale, D-Middlesex.

* Directing Attorney General Porrino to use emergency rule-making and
other regulatory measures to limit the supply of opioid medications to
five days instead of 30.

* Creating the Facing Addiction Task Force in the private sector chaired
by Pastor Joe Carter of The New Hope Baptist Church in Newark and former
Gov. Jim McGreevey as well as a new Governor's Task Force on Drug Abuse

* Pushing for legislation that mandates that no one with health insurance
shall be denied six months of drug abuse treatment.

* Pledging $1 million for college dorms for students recovering from
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