April 18, 2019 | 60° F

New Jersey reports sustained opioid-related incidents amid push to alleviate the epidemic

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Some patients recovering from opioid addiction have shown positive results to drugs like Buprenorphine, alongside therapy and counseling. Accepted fellows will learn best practices to treat these patients, and will take a step toward being able to prescribe Buprenorphine.

While the nationwide opioid epidemic has picked up more recognition recently, it seems like all of that talk has yet to translate into results for the Garden State.

So far in 2018, there have been a reported 765 suspected drug overdose deaths in New Jersey, 50 of which have happened in Middlesex County, according to data from the Office of the Attorney General’s NJ Cares initiative. The data consists of deaths that happened between Jan. 1 and April 1.

The NJ Cares data for overdose deaths in 2016 — the most recent year with confirmed data — shows that a total of 2,221 related deaths happened over the course of that entire year. 

In 2018, the 765 suspected deaths happened in just three months — if that trend continues at this pace the state could eclipse 3,000 overdose deaths by the year’s end.

Before leaving office, former Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) made the state’s opioid epidemic a priority through actions like dedicating $1.3 million in state funding to Rutgers for the first apprenticeship program for Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselors in the country, according to The Daily Targum.

The New Jersey Healthcare Talent Development Center at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations received the funding with a goal to combat the nation’s opioid problem, according to the Targum.

“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 ... (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,” Christie said.  

On Tuesday, Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) announced his own plans for addressing drug addiction in the state, and how his proposed budget will be broken down to combat the issue.

He plans to commit $100 million from his fiscal year 2019 budget to fight the opioid epidemic, according to a press release from the Office of the Governor. That $100 million will be divided into three areas — prevention, treatment and recovery, social risk factors and infrastructure and data.

Fifty-six million of that will go to prevention, treatment and recovery, according to the release. Specifically, $38.5 million of that will be used to “develop a coordinated and comprehensive approach that includes: expanded and improved access to community based, outpatient programs, so that more individuals have more regular, consistent and timely access to treatment.”

Thirty-one million will be designated to addressing social risk factors. This includes considering how obstacles like unemployment and homelessness factor into a person struggling to stay on the path to recovery, according to the release.

That funding specifically includes $12 million for supportive housing for high-risk families through the Keeping Families Together program, $5 million for supportive housing for people with opioid and substance use disorders and $5 million for employment training and support, according to the release.

The final $13 million will be used to support infrastructure development and data usage, according to the release. The idea being that by supporting the development of data, technology and workforce training, people will be given a stronger foundation to address their needs. 

Ten million of that total will be designated to the development of electronic health records to support connectivity among different types of providers, and workforce development and training, according to the release.

The Murphy administration wants to develop a long-term strategy that is data-driven and includes collaboration between government agencies, according to the release. It plans on using integrated data for population-health research and evaluation, so that both areas are able to be adjusted and developed over time.

Murphy announced his plan during a visit to Rescue Mission, a nonprofit in Trenton, New Jersey, that provides counseling and substance-abuse treatment services.    

“Every day, the scourge of opioids is tearing apart our families and decimating communities throughout New Jersey,” Murphy said. “We recognize that addiction is a treatable illness and with the right resources for prevention, treatment and recovery, we can help those struggling with the disease restore their lives.”  

Ryan Stiesi

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