LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Report recommends NJ integrate addiction services, care

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

Kathleen Foster lost her son to an addiction 21 years ago while he was waiting for an inpatient bed.

“The third Tuesday I had to call to tell admissions to take Christian off the waiting list because he died while waiting,” she said.

Foster and other mothers whose children have battled opioid addictions endorse the recommendations of the New Jersey Reentry Corporation’s new report.

“The time is now to move forward to establish the necessary infrastructure so that families are not guessing,” said Former Gov. and Reentry Corporation Board Chair Jim McGreevey.

The report recommends replicating best-practice models in Vermont, Texas and Rhode Island. It calls for medication-assisted treatment, recovery coaches, navigators to coordinate care and a health information exchange.

“They’re not telling each of these sources of treatment what’s going on in the other sources of treatment, and it’s not because they don’t want to. It’s because they can’t. It’s because the disease is disrupting their ability to think like a patient who wants help. Therefore, we, as a society, have to set up the structures to do them for them,” said Dr. David Gastfriend, researcher at the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

The report hits hard on calling for continuity of care – encouraging at least 6 to 12 months of treatment, acknowledging the brain takes much longer than a 28-day program to heal.

“In people with addiction, the pathways that reinforce, that continue the addictive behavior actually get build up as cellular pathways. It takes months, if not even years, to undo those pathways and the damage that they cause,” Gastfriend said.

The Reentry Corporation says it’s time for New Jersey to integrate services and care.

“We need to integrate these systems so that we have, if you will, an addiction treatment infrastructure,” McGreevey said.

Researchers who wrote the report say money is not the issue – waste is one of them.

“Looking at the resources that New Jersey has and it is clear to us that New Jersey has enough existing infrastructure in order to implement and restructure what we already have to create a hub-and-spoke model that mirrors that of Vermont,” said Kaya Curtis, a research assistant at the NJ Reentry Corporation and a Columbia University student.

The report says better coordination and better integration of services, and perhaps through legislation, can save states lots of money — $6.7 million in Vermont, over $3 million in Texas.

How would New Jersey achieve integration? Perhaps through better coordination, leadership and legislative action.

“You don’t need stars to align when the systems already do,” said Aakash Shah, medical director for New Jersey Reentry Corporation.

“If I could have my druthers, that there would be a joint effort by the Governor’s Office and the Legislature to implement this system,” said McGreevey.

“This report is the best I’ve seen in four years in terms of a cohesive, evidence-based way in which to treat this awful epidemic and to move this state forward,” said Sen. Joseph Vitale.

One doctor calls the lack of an integrated treatment and recovery system tragic.

“It’s tragic because this is a disease we know how to treat. This is a disease science has given us the tools to address,” Gastfriend said.