POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Murphy calls for $100 million to combat opioid crisis

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

The Rescue Mission of Trenton has been helping people for 40 years. That’s how long Mary Gay Abbott-Young has run it.

“Several of our guests today just attended the funeral of a young man who died of an opioid overdose. We must not forget that this problem touches every community, every life and everyone in it. It knows no boundaries ,” she said.

Gov. Murphy targeted $100 million in his budget to fight opioid addiction and chose the Rescue Mission to offer details and express determination.

“If we are to get ahead of this problem, we must remove the stigma. We will not treat addicts like criminals, we will treat them as our brothers and sisters who need an outstretched hand,” said Murphy.

Former Gov. Chris Christie announced a $200 million anti-opioid initiative last September. Murphy and his aides say that money was cobbled together from unused funds and that only $90 million of it has been spent. Murphy’s $100 million, they say, is a stronger bet to get spent because it’s in the budget.

“A lot of the money that the Christie administration had obligated for this problem never actually made it to the agencies, and never therefore made it to programs and the community. That’s a major point people need to understand,” said Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal.

In Murphy’s plan, $56 million goes to outpatient programs and recovery coaches, $31 million to supportive housing for those in recovery and job training, and $13 million to improve data collection surrounding the disease.

“If this were a baseball team, you are seeing us evolve from making decisions based on our gut feeling to Moneyball. Let’s figure out exactly what is working, what is not working, in real time, let’s get the robust databases in this arena, that we have in some many other health arenas and make sure that we’re making informed decisions based on fact and science,” said Murphy.

Christie’s initiative included a television ad campaign that featured the governor. When Murphy was asked what aspects of the program might be cut, that’s what he pointed to.

“I think if you’re a television production firm, you’re going to be disappointed, let me start with that because that’s not the way we’re going to go. Sixty-year old guys talking to young kids about the perils of addiction does not work. I can tell you the one visible piece of this is we’re not going to be doing any television programs with yours truly or frankly, at this point, with anybody,” said Murphy.

Murphy said the medical marijuana program he laid out last week should cause some reduction on opioid prescriptions.

“We’ve seen it with a family member, of late, where the opiate is dispensed like M&M’s. There are alternatives. The medical marijuana alternative is a real alternative,” he said.

His words were well-received.

“This is a day that we have waited so long for, someone who is going to put their money where their mouth is,” said Sen. Shirley Turner.

The opioid epidemic continues to grip New Jersey and the nation. Christie was a crusader against it. Murphy is putting a lot of passion into it as well, and maybe even a few more dollars.