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Interactive Map: More Addicts, More Drug Treatment Options

Services in New Jersey for people seeking help with drug abuse can’t keep up with demand, largely because of heroin and opiate crisis

Fueled by the ongoing heroin and opiate addiction crisis, admissions to drug treatment programs in New Jersey are continuing to rise.

Data from the New Jersey Department of Human Services show 3,800 more people received treatment for drug or alcohol abuse last year than in 2014. That represented a 6 percent increase. The total 68,571 treated in 2015 was nearly 10 percent higher than in 2008. Nearly half of those admitted last year were looking to kick a heroin or other opiate addiction, compared with 36 percent seven years earlier.

Heroin and opiate treatment admissions rose by 13 percent in just one year, and were up by one-third between 2008 and 2015. More than 27,000 New Jerseyans were admitted for heroin addiction treatment last year, with nearly 5,000 others seeking help for the abuse of other opiates, according to data from the 2015 Substance Abuse Overview report.

The numbers of those seeking help for the other substances tracked by DHS's Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services — alcohol, cocaine and crack, marijuana, and hashish — also all increased between 2014 and 2015, although fewer were admitted for treatment for alcohol and cocaine/crack habits last year than in 2008. Marijuana and hash admissions were 9 percent higher in 2015 than seven years earlier.

Ocean County continues to have a major problem with addiction, the data shows, with the largest number of people seeking treatment for heroin and opiates, nearly 4,000. It was also the only county with more than 7,000 admissions for treatment for all substances, more than 1,000 higher than Monmouth, which had the second most admissions last year.

However, the highest rates of admissions were in Cape May and Atlantic counties. In Cape May, 17 of 1,000 people sought drug treatment and 6 per 1,000 were admitted for alcohol abuse. Atlantic's rate of 13 per 1,000 was the only other county rate of more than 10 per 1,000 for drug addiction.

While treatment numbers reflect a growing need, they also reflect more availability of treatment services — and drug users may seek help in facilities not in their home county.

New Jersey officials are well aware of the heroin problem and have taken a number of steps to deal with abuse. For instance, the state has created a 24-hour hotline at the Rutgers University Behavioral Health Center to connect addicts with the best treatment level for their condition.

Gov. Chris Christie made the hotline — 1-844-276-2777 — a priority, funding it with state and federal money. Christie also recently expanded to more than half the counties the state's pilot Recovery Coach program, which connects overdose victims with recovering drug users who have received special training to get the addicts help and, hopefully, treatment.

Still, there is still not enough money to fund beds, programs and doctors — particularly psychiatrists. That means many treatment facilities have waiting lists and some of those seeking help don't get it. Federal representatives, including New Jersey's two senators, are among those seeking to relax federal rules to allow Medicaid to cover more in-patient addiction treatment services. Meanwhile, drug-related deaths continued to rise, to 13.1 per 100,000 last year.

The governor, who has made drug addiction a priority, has tried to attack it on numerous fronts. Among several initiatives, he has extended the availability of naloxone, which can quickly reverse an overdose; expanded drug courts, which move nonviolent offenders into treatment programs; and strengthened the state's Prescription Monitoring Program in an effort to reduce the number of pills given out.

Earlier this week, he signed legislation designed to expand treatment options and improve the relationship between law enforcement and addicts through the establishment of law enforcement-assisted addiction and recovery referral programs. These would allow a person to ask police for help with an addiction, turn over any drugs and drug paraphernalia to them without fear of prosecution, and receive assistance from a team of law enforcement, treatment providers and other volunteers.

“In New Jersey, alone, the (heroin and opioid) overdose death rate is currently three times the national rate," said Assemblyman John McKeon, D-Essex and a co-sponsor of the new law. "Clearly more needs to be done. Similar programs we’ve studied have shown marked success in cultivating a safe environment where those suffering from addiction feel comfortable coming forward to seek treatment. The new law will hopefully help improve the lives of those struggling with addiction.”

“All too often people afflicted with the disease of addiction have negative, counterproductive and repeated interactions with the criminal justice system,” said Christie in a statement on signing the law. “This new law allows police officers — often the first people to discover nonviolent drug offenders in their worst state — to become a point of access for help and recovery."

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