July 15, 2019 | 73° F

Rutgers receives $1.3 million endorsement for drug apprenticeship program

Photo by Dimitri Rodriguez |

Gov. Chris Christie joins President Barchi in announcing that Rutgers will host the nation's first ever apprenticeship program for Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselors. The program will consist of 270 hours of free classroom instruction at Rutgers and 3,100 hours of supervised, paid on-the-job training with a participating healthcare employer.

Yesterday Gov. Chris Christie, alongside University President Robert L. Barchi, announced that Rutgers will receive $1.3 million in state funding to introduce the nation’s first ever apprenticeship program for Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselors. 

The New Jersey Healthcare Talent Development Center at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations (SMLR) will be the direct recipient, and the program is being launched as an initiative to treat and combat the nation’s growing opioid epidemic. 

This apprenticeship will consist of 270 hours of free classroom instruction at Rutgers and 3,100 hours of supervised, paid on-the-job training with a participating healthcare employer, according the School of Management and Labor Relations. 

“One-hundred-seventy-five Americans a day are dying in this country from addiction. That’s a 9/11 every two and a half weeks. If a terrorist organization had infiltrated this country and was killing 175 Americans a day, everyday, how much do you think you would pay to make it stop? How united would the country be to end the suffering and the dying?” Christie said. “Yet, we are doing this to ourselves ... internally. And we don’t show the will to make it stop. That’s why I believe so much in the idea of treatment.”

He said that the need for substance abuse counselors will increase by more than 20 percent over the next 10 years because of this crisis. 

This summer, NJ Advance Media reported that drug overdoses in New Jersey topped 2,000 in 2016, more than guns, car accidents and suicides combined. 

Last month, The Daily Targum reported that the New Brunswick Police Department had administered 95 doses of Narcan, a drug commonly used to counteract opioid overdose, to date this year — an increase from previous years.

The classroom instruction offered through the apprenticeship will cover scientific addiction, counseling techniques, crisis intervention, case management and addiction recovery. 

The first cohort of 200 apprentices who successfully complete the program and pass the state certification exam will be licensed to work as certified alcohol and drug counselors in addiction treatment centers, health centers and hospitals across the state. 

Christie said that this is the largest higher-education merger in American history. 

“They will be on the frontline of the epidemic ... reaching out and giving hope to those who are truly hopeless,” he said. 

It is unique programs like this that allow students to have an exceptional higher educational experience, Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Aaron Fichtner said 

“This program will allow students to get classroom training and college credit, but also to learn while they’re on the job and it’s that blending of classroom education and on the job training that really makes for a good educational model,” he said.

This on-site job training program along with classroom lecture is what Christie calls an “Earn While You Learn” program. 

This unique style of education would “reduce financial burdens” for students in the program, since the job training is paid, said Dr. Padma Arvind, a professor of in the School of Management Relations and executive director of the NJ Healthcare Talent Development Center at Rutgers SMLR.

She added that this initiative will encourage other universities to take similar strides. 

“Other universities will follow suit. This will have potential college credit and it can be articulated into the undergraduate educational program so potentially students can take this training program and look at it as a career pathway ... I’m hoping that a lot of colleges and universities follow suit,” she said. 

Christie said that a good university “not only educates and provides academic research and scholarship, it makes it community a better place by the synergy that occurs on college campus, the collision of ideas that helps to create a healthy, growing, vital environment.”

Rutgers has already been a leading university in healthcare, said Fichter. 

The Rutgers undergraduate healthcare program is ranked No. 2 in the nation, Barchi said at the conference, and the University has already taken steps toward the cause. 

The Rutgers Center for Alcohol Studies is training police officers to show substance abusers a different path of life. The Recovery House at Rutgers, which has been instituted for 30 years, helps students with addiction problems to complete their degree while managing with their road to recovery, Barchi said. 

Arvind spoke about the way that society views opioid addictions.

“Simple medication like binge drinking, Tylenol and other pills to keep students awake through exams can lead to addiction ... We admit that we have an obesity problem, a diabetes problem, but we still have a stigma to say that we have addiction as an issue or anxiety as an issue and that is a problem … Talking about it and trying to understand how we can manage pain without the medication is the first step,” she said. 

Christie said the victims of addiction deserve to get help without criticism. 

“We shouldn’t judge people who made a bad judgement (to do drugs). We shouldn’t let them carry that 'moral stain' on them for the rest of their lives ... It (the program) brings hope to people with a disease who can be treated and can be put into a long lasting recovery ... Innocence and hope can be restored,” he said. 

The program will officially start in January and the first cohort of students will be enrolled in February, Arvind said. The program is working with the Center of Alcohol Studies to provide courses around the issue that students could take for credit in the future.

Fichtner added that this issue should be of interest to students. “Rutgers has a responsibility to make sure we are building a better state," he said.

Erica D'Costa

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