Wednesday, January 11, 2017

NJAMHAA Applauds Governor Christie’s Commitment to Providing Substance Use Treatment, Eliminating Stigma

In seventh State of the State address, Governor Chris Christie highlighted his successful initiatives and ongoing commitment to increase access to substance use treatment services for the estimated 985,000 New Jersey residents in need.

Governor Christie has been raising awareness that addiction is a disease and that individuals with addictions should not be stigmatized. Not only did he reinforce these facts during his powerful State of the State address, but he also announced new exciting and much-needed initiatives. His diverse strategies are inspiring and exactly what is needed to address these complicated issues that are leading to tragedy in thousands of lives throughout our state and nation.

Gov. Christie announced the establishment of the Governor’s Task Force for Drug Abuse Control; a continued investment for mental health and substance use treatment services with the addition of $127 million in the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services’ FY 2018 State Budget, as well as $12 million to open 200 beds for 18- and 19-year-olds to be served by the Children’s System of Care; “implementing a robust curriculum tailored to every age group, beginning in kindergarten”; investment of $5 million to expand the Pediatric Behavioral Health Hub; increase of funding by $1 million to expand recovery dorms at colleges and universities; establishment of sober living homes throughout the state to support ongoing recovery after graduation; development of legislation that will prohibit insurance companies from denying or requiring pre-authorization for the first six months of inpatient or outpatient substance use treatment; and the creation of a new hotline and website (1-844-REACH-NJ;, which are now in operation to further support individuals’ efforts to identify treatment providers and begin treatment.

The Governor also directed Elizabeth Connolly, Acting Commissioner, Department of Human Services, to call upon Seema Verma, the new Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, to eliminate the Institutions for Mental Disease (IMD) exclusion, which prevents states from drawing down federal funds for any person served in a facility with more than 16 beds.

The numerous efforts that Gov. Christie has undertaken over the past couple of years with the goal of increasing access to substance use treatment include expansion of the Drug Court, which requires individuals who commit nonviolent drug crimes to begin treatment, in order to avoid further overcrowding the jails; expansion of the Recovery Coach programs, through which individuals in recovery of substance use disorders work with individuals who are revived from heroin overdoses that would otherwise be fatal and encourage them to enter treatment; the dedication of the majority of $20 million in State funds and $100 million from the federal Medicaid drawdown to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates for substance use treatment; and the establishment of the Facing Addiction Task Force, chaired by Pastor Joe Carter of The New Hope Baptist Church in Newark and former Governor Jim McGreevey to address addiction from many angles: prevention, treatment, helping individuals reintegrate into the community after they complete treatment or are released from jail or prison, and supporting individuals in recovery with housing, health care and employment.

These initiatives are greatly appreciated. However, as Governor Christie himself stated, much more needs to be done as addictions, as well as co-occurring mental health disorders, are highly prevalent throughout New Jersey. Substance use disorders cannot be treated in a vacuum. Integrated care is essential and it has been proven to be much more effective than treating either illness in a silo.
We greatly appreciate Governor Christie’s focus on the opioid and heroin crisis. In order to most effectively combat this crisis, mental illnesses must also be treated. We look forward to working with Governor Christie and his staff to expand and ensure access to services that address both of these chronic illnesses.