LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Conference focuses on helping ex-offenders overcome addiction

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

Rich Wilder shared the thrill of recovering from drug addiction after his agonizing defeats at attempts.

“What changed was I became willing. I became willing to listen,” he said.

That’s what Wilder told the New Jersey Reentry Corporation’s fourth annual conference, where there were a ton of star-power guests and speakers all with the same mission of helping folks overcome addiction and/or imprisonment.

Dr. Andrew Kolodny, co-director of Opioid Policy Research at Brandeis University, has warned the medical profession to limit prescriptions for opioids. There’s been a call to fire him from Brandeis University. Today, Kolodny kept the bull’s-eye on the opioid industry.

“They’re doing everything they can on a state and federal level to block interventions that would result in less prescribing,” he said. “According to an investigation that was done by the Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity, the opioid lobby actually outspent the gun lobby by eight times.”

The conference focused on solutions and best practices. It heard about one in San Antonio that trained law enforcement to take folks in crisis to the Restoration Center.

“About 30,000 are brought there who used to go back to jail or put back on streets homeless or go to emergency rooms. The homeless count in downtown San Antonio is down 80 percent,” said Leon Evans from Evans Three Bears Consulting.

Eighteen months ago, Rhode Island said it launched the first medication-assistance treatment program for incarcerated addicts. The reported results showed overdose deaths among returning prisoners fell by 60 percent and overall opioid overdose deaths fell by 12 percent.

“We’ll be the first state in the country to experience that,” said Brad Brockmann, executive director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights.

In Buffalo, they started the nation’s first opioid court.

“And since we’ve started the medication-assisted treatment, same day, the recidivism rate is decreasing,” said Dr. Gale Burstein, health commissioner of Erie County, New York.

State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said he’s rolling out to six counties in June what he initiated in Bergen County — Operation Helping Hand. The program rounds up low-level offenders and marries them with treatment in the Prosecutor’s Office.

“One of the women we helped was a mother with two master’s degrees who was a teacher who we arrested while she was on her way to buy purchase heroin in Paterson and use on the way back, with her 4-year-old in his pajamas sitting in the back. She’s clean today,” Grewal said.

First Lady Tammy Murphy, whose husband has not specifically budgeted money for former Gov. Jim McGreevey’s Reentry Corporation, had criticism for the White House.

“I look at our president who last year declared that the opioid crisis as a state of emergency, and yet the response has been draconian. It’s been, ‘let’s have further law enforcement, let’s have bigger penalties,’ and it hasn’t been, ‘let’s look at integrative care,'” the first lady said.

While the former governor touts the success of the New Jersey Reentry Corporation, there’s a question this week about whether he’ll get funding from the new governor, Phil Murphy.

“We all need to have a commitment to second chances,” McGreevey said. “Put it this way, I ain’t going anywhere.”

The Murphy administration said it’s committed to addressing inequities in the state but has not offered specific comments about the corporation’s hopes of $5 million to the fellow Democrat’s nonprofit.