In the dwindling days of his administration, Gov. Chris Christie is trying to communicate the fierce urgency of now in the fight against the growing opioid addiction crisis. On Tuesday he was at Integrity House, the addiction services facility in Newark, to formally announce a wide-ranging $200 million, multi-departmental initiative that he hopes will bring more attention to the crisis and become a model for the nation.
“This crisis started in a hospital, in a doctor’s office, where folks were encouraged to give these drugs when the person receiving them wasn’t an appropriate patient to get them or when too many of them were given out, which helped lead that person onto a path of addiction,” he said.
The program, made up of 25 new and existing initiatives, will be administered through a number of state departments and will include, among other things, $40 million for a new incentive-based opioid recovery program; a new $5 million residential program for pregnant women and new mothers dealing with addiction; $36 million to expand supportive housing for adults; and $21 million to expand the state’s recovery coach program.
“In every county in New Jersey, starting this fall, if someone’s brought into the emergency room in any hospital in this state, after they’re revived, and their general health is assessed by the health care professional at the hospital, they will then be met by a recovery coach, most of the times someone who is in recovery themselves long term. Someone who can speak to them in the language that they can understand. Someone who’s been there,” said Christie.
The governor set this process in motion back in February during his budget address, hoping then to have Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, an underwriter of NJTV News, pick up the tab, which, as anyone who watched the government shutdown drama knows, did not happen.
“I made it clear to the speaker and I made it clear to the other members of the Legislature, that, despite their unwillingness to hold Horizon to account for this, that this would be done and that’s why we got the language in the budget that allows me to move money from any line item in the budget to deal with a public health crisis,” he added. “We’ll detail where all the money’s coming from as we move along here and we distribute the money, but no one should fear that we’re going to rob from Peter to pay Paul,” Christie said.
In the final year of his tenure the governor has earmarked at least half a billion dollars in initiatives -– you already know about the State House rehab –- that a critic might call expensive legacy building projects. Christie had a word for them today.
“The criticism comes one day and leaves the next,” he concluded. “For those of us who are doers we have to be here to be responsible, to be held to account for what we do and what we fail to do, and so if these criticisms come from the watchers, I will deposit it where I deposit all of that criticism. In the waste basket for the timid.”
The governor says it will take months to fully implement this program but he insisted it will happen before the end of his term, because, he said, we simply can’t wait any longer.