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Feds Offer $22 Million to Bolster NJ’s Battles Against Opioid Addiction

But funds depend on bipartisan backing for 2017 budget, so proposal comes with no guarantees

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While tens of thousands of New Jersey residents continue to battle crippling drug addictions, the death rate for those hooked on heroin and other opiates stabilized in recent years and had dipped below the national average by 2014, according to federal data released Tuesday.

To help fuel the state’s positive trend -- and continue to build drug treatment capacity nationwide -- the federal government pledged to make available up to $22 million for prevention and treatment programs in the Garden State. The funding would come from $1.1 billion in money President Barack Obama committed to drug addiction efforts over two years as part of the federal budget scheduled to take effect in October.

But while Congress signed off on aspects of the program’s structure earlier this year, the new funding depends on bipartisan support for the federal budget -- and thus is not a sure thing. Without that money in place, there’s not yet much to celebrate, one New Jersey advocate for treatment warned.

Michael Botticelli, Director of National Drug Control Policy, told reporters on Tuesday the funds would be distributed according to a formula that takes into account the state’s death rate from opiate addiction and the availability of treatment beds. The goal is to ensure those who are ready to detox and seek long-term treatment are able to access quality, affordable care.

New Jersey ranked 26th nationwide for the number of heroin and opiate deaths, per 100,000 people, according to the federal analysis. While Gov. Chris Christie has focused significant time and resources on the problem in recent years, experts have long decried the lack of available addiction services in the state.

Data collected by the New Jersey Department of Human Services, which oversees treatment programs, showed 781 opiate-related deaths were recorded in 2014 -- nearly double the total of a few years earlier. DHS also found that more than 28,000 people sought drug treatment in 2014, down from more than 32,600 the previous year; nearly half of these addicts were using heroin or other opiates.

New York, where the death rate has hovered below the national average for years, is now ranked 39th nationwide; Empire state programs are anticipated to collect some $44 million over two years. In Pennsylvania, opiate deaths outpace the national average. The commonwealth ranks 8th nationwide for the rate of these drug deaths and is slated to get up to $46 million from the program. Delaware ranked 9th nationwide for its death rate and is calculated to receive $4 million.

“Many of our nation’s governors have been at the forefront of addressing this issue,” Botticelli added. “The federal government can’t end this crisis alone. Everyone has a role to play.”

But Roseanne Scotti, state director for the national Drug Policy Alliance, which has long advocated for additional funding for treatment and prevention programs, said until Congress follows through with the funding the program is something of a “hollow victory.” Without greater resources, local governments and community providers won’t be able to meet the demand for service, she said.

“No money means no action,” Scotti said.

“That’s where the rubber hits the road -- we need to fund these bills,” noted U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster (D-NH), who joined the call with Botticelli, along with New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, both Democrats.

In New Jersey, Christie has been praised by a number of experts to tackle the impact of opiate addiction. He formed a task force in 2014 to examine the issue and has since expanded drug courts, which shift nonviolent drug offenders destined for the criminal justice system into treatment programs; extended the availability of naloxone, an injection that can quickly reverse an overdose; created hotlines for addicts to reach a centralized state-run service that can help connect them with treatment; and strengthened the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program through partnerships with other states, among other efforts.

While Christie has continued to oppose the legalization of marijuana or weakening other drug laws, he has frequently underscored the importance of treating drug addiction as a disease, not a moral failing. A spokesman for the governor’s office declined to comment yesterday on the Obama administration’s latest announcement, which he said they had not had time to fully review. A representative of DHS could not be reached for comment late yesterday.

Regardless of the new funding, New Jersey is already slated to receive nearly $1 million for addiction programs as part of $94 million the federal Department of Health and Human Services announced in March it would distribute among 271 community health programs nationwide. In the Garden State, funding will benefit Atlanticare in Egg Harbor Township, which will receive $325,000; Henry J. Austin in Trenton, $352,083; and Project Hope in Trenton, $324,316.

In addition, in January U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-Monmouth) introduced legislation that would allocate $500 million a year to help pay for additional training for opiate prescribers, support for first responders and others on the front line, and more treatment slots. U.S. Sens. Robert Menendez and Corey Booker (both D-NJ) also co-sponsored a measure that would further expand access to the life-saving naloxone shots, also known by the brand name Narcan.

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