Heroin Overdose Fatalities in NJ More Than Triple the National Average

By Erin Delmore

“It’s a huge, gigantic step for treatment,” said The Lennard Clinic Corporate Clinical Director Ajibola Alli.

If you’ve committed a first-time, non-violent crime while under the influence you can now graduate from New Jersey’s Drug Court program, even if you’re on methadone or other similar narcotic pain reliever to treat your addiction.

“The use of methadone, suboxone, naloxone, those drugs work to be able to treat the individual’s medical needs, and then once those medical needs are taken care of, you can actually focus better on the psychological and social needs,” said Integrity House Senior Director Earl Lipphardt.

Methadone and other drugs like it keep addiction at bay by tempering highs and that cuts down on cravings. Once a person is stabilized, clinicians say real work can begin in therapy.

“The opposition that I think sometimes people have to that is they recognize the legal complications that the individual has and view the medically-assisted treatment as a substitute. And it’s not a substitute. It’s a medical treatment just like you’d be taking insulin for diabetes over a long term, or even on a short term basis. You know, medically-assisted treatment works the exact same way only it’s focused on an addiction,” said Lipphardt.

The Lennard Clinic in Newark and Elizabeth has seen the number of addicts spike. This year they’ll treat more than 1,500 people.

“This is the new norm. I mean the individuals are more addicted to prescription medication than they are now to street medication,” said Alli.

It’s a nationwide epidemic that’s hit New Jersey especially hard. The number of heroin overdose fatalities is more than triple the national average. Gov. Chris Christie’s made the issue a focus of his time in office and a cornerstone of his presidential campaign.

“Everyone in this country has made bad choices in their lives. But most of us have been lucky enough that our failings haven’t taken us down the road of addiction,” said Christie.

Christie told crowds at a Camden treatment facility last month that only seven percent of New Jersey drug court graduates are convicted of new crimes, compared with 43 percent of drug offenders released from prison nationwide.

New Jersey is one of 15 states targeted in a new White House plan to trace the distribution of heroin through high-trafficking areas while pairing law enforcement with public health workers. The emphasis is on treatment over prosecution. Advocates say that mindset is critical.

“Before people didn’t want to speak up because of the stigma, but the more people who speak up, the more we discuss this, then the more that society can see that this is real and we have to address it– just like we’re addressing every other disease. It’s a disease and we have to address it,” said Alli.

This is the latest piece of legislation from a 21-bill package aimed targeting drug addiction to be signed by Christie. The bill was passed in both the Senate and Assembly with unanimous support.