Christie Touts Recovery Coach Program for Addicts

By Brenda Flanagan

Recovery Coach John Brogan sat at a roundtable with Gov. Chris Christie and described a kid who he says OD’ed on a mixture of heroin and rat poison. He ended up at Monmouth Medical Center.

“He’s being revived and he comes back to life and there he is. That’s our opportunity to go to the next level. In every case they all have one common thing. Some of them are angry, some of them are sad, some of them are depressed, it depends. When we get down with them on their level and say ‘I know exacly how you’re feeling the tears start,” Brogan said.

Brogan’s also recovering addict — part of the $1.7 million Recovery Coach program that kicked off this January in Monmouth and Ocean counties, where the heroin epidemic’s raging. It pairs Narcan reversal patients with coaches. All the counselors here must be at least four years clean.

“Up until we started this project in January, Narcan reversals were leaving the hospital even though there were attempts on the part of hospital staff to intervene and get them into treatment. It was unsuccessful,” said Connie Greene, Barnabas Health Instructor for Prevention.

“And they’d just start using again. This is the nice thing about this program: trained experts to come in and try to help them break that cycle, try to convince them you’ve got to treat yourself here,” said Monmouth County Prosecutor, Christopher Gramiccioni.

How many successes have there been with this program? “Thirty-eight. We’re running at a 71 to 72 percent success ratio so far,” said Borgan.

And that’s unprecedented. For Gov. Christie — who lost a friend to addiction — it’s a critical step toward stemming the heroin plague. He says the OD antidote — Narcan — has saved more than 8,000 lives in New Jersey since 2014, but that it’s programs like this one that can keep addicts alive.

“This is advice and counseling and help that comes from people that have been exactly where these folks are. And there’s no way to substitute for that,” Christie said.

“We no longer have someone who is alone in their disease that has to negotiate the system. We’re there to hold their hands and help support them through this entire process,” said Greene.

Brogan — who brought his family to bear witness — says he can’t believe he’s a coach.

“After four Narcan reversals and attempted suicide. No way. Five years ago, my three daughters and my wife, they didn’t have a dad, and it was real close,” he said.

The next place that will implement the Recovery Coach program is Eva’s Village in Paterson. The governor wants to expand it to 11 counties by next year, and then take it statewide.

For more stories that are part of the initiative Healthy NJ: New Jersey’s Drug Addiction Crisis, click here.