By Michael Hill
The governor’s multi-prong anti-addiction treatment plan encountered both criticism and praise today. The plan laid out in his State of the State speech calls for a one stop hotline and website, more beds for young people, an opioids curriculum in school, more money for recovery dorms, fewer restrictions on sober homes and limiting initial opioid prescriptions to a five-day supply.
“This focus was wonderful. There have been so many years when we’ve heard there are so many other problems,” said New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies CEO Debra Wentz.
From his chair of the Senate Health Committee, state Sen. Joe Vitale has waged a war against addiction and says some of what the governor called for is already underway.
Nevertheless, “I think it was important for him to focus that hour and change on an issue that is probably the most — it is the most important public health issue for New Jersey and for the nation,” he said.
Vitale says he’ll likely co-sponsor the bill the governor called for to mandate insurance companies cover six months of addiction treatment with no prior approval. Advocates say it’s about saving lives, not dollars.
“But if you think about it for a while, your loved one’s going to treatment, you just want to get them in a place as soon as possible before they disagree or they overdose or die or disappear somewhere,” said Rutgers University Center of Alcohol Studies Instructor Frank Greenagel.
New Jersey’s biopharmaceutical community says it applauds the governor’s focus on addiction but would not comment specifically on the prescription limits. Prescriptions of opioids get much of the blame for New Jersey’s heroin epidemic. The governor directed his attorney general — not state lawmakers — to draft new limit rules.
“And I think that it is a great move — limiting opioid prescriptions to five days for the first time,” Greenagel said.
But, Greenagel had a ton of criticism for the governor. One about the new access treatment hotline that appears to duplicate the one the state established 18 months ago.
“The question is, is he just announcing a program that was already started a year and a half ago and pushed by the Legislature? Or is he announcing a redundant program? But he gave us no clue to what that is,” Greenagel said.
Last September, the governor signed into law new evidence-based substance abuse education for public schools.
“And so again, this is a lot of political theatrics so he can appear on ‘Fox and Friends’ in the morning and try to repair his broken poll numbers,” Greenagel said.
The governor warned about legalizing marijuana by calling it a gateway drug.
“If you try any drug by the age of 13, you have a 70 percent chance, according to the Surgeon General, of developing addiction to another drug in the next seven years,” Christie said.
Is there any legalization advocating for 13-year-olds and 14-year-olds to smoke marijuana?
“No, nobody is saying that teens, or young people, should be consuming cannabis. No one is suggesting that,” said NORML New Jersey Executive Director Evan Nison.
A recent study in Colorado found teen use of marijuana has declined under that state’s legalization. The fight in New Jersey will light up again once this governor’s term ends in 53 weeks.