New Jersey will expand existing programs and create new performance-based ones to reduce drug addiction and provide more options for those struggling with the disease — especially low-income patients — thanks to some $200 million in uncommitted dollars found in state coffers.
Gov. Chris Christie detailed the plan yesterday during a visit to Integrity House, a treatment facility headquartered in Newark, to use funding from the budgets of eight state departments to invest in more than two-dozen initiatives. The efforts range from beefing up treatment, to improving state oversight operations, to spending on nonmedical support services, like safe housing.
A centerpiece of the plan is the $40 million commitment to expand effective care for low-income adults, including Medicaid members and those without insurance, who need inpatient treatment. The funding will allow the New Jersey Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services to immediately vet and, in October, hire contractors to run pilot programs to establish three holistic care centers for these patients; the contracts will include performance-based incentives designed to encourage providers to keep people from relapsing and ensure they are properly cared for, housed, and eventually employed.
(The division, currently housed in the Department of Human Services — which oversees Medicaid, state psychiatric hospitals, and a vast array of behavioral health programs — is in the process of transferring into the Department of Health, a controversial move that Christie has said will result in a better integrated physical and mental care.)
Christie’s announcement is the latest step in his ongoing push to better address substance use disorders in the Garden State, where an estimated 2,000 people died of opioid addiction last year. On Monday, in his capacity as chair of the White House panel on opioid addiction, the governor outlined a national partnership with pharmaceutical leaders to reduce addiction and improve treatment for those with substance use disorders.
Christie: ‘It’s my mission’
“We will save lives. We will make great change for people who really need it,” Christie told the group at Integrity House yesterday. “That’s why I’m doing this, that’s why I believe so strongly in it, and that’s why I feel like it’s my mission over the last couple of years of this Governorship,” he said, adding, “We hope and trust that this will become a national model for states across the country.”
Funding for the work was found by scrubbing department budgets and identifying “lapsed” dollars — money committed for a program that got started late, was projected to cost more than it did, or came in under budget. Traditionally, this money is squirreled away for future use, or added to the surplus for future years. (Christie, a Republican, will leave office in January after his second term.)
The $200 million echoes the amount of funding that Christie sought to extract from Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, the state’s largest insurance provider, by tapping into its reserves to fund addiction programs and other health needs. This battle became key to the budget stalemate in June, in which the state government was shut down for several days, and it led to the passage of a watered-down Horizon reform bill that allows the state to review its reserve level.
In addition to the new, evidenced-based pilot program under DMHAS, the plan includes spending $21 million to expand the existing Recovery Coach Program to all 21 counties. Launched in 2016 with providers from RWJ/Barnabas, this effort has been effective in connecting addicts who overdosed and ended up in the emergency room with peer counselors — former drug users who are in recovery — who serve as counselors and system navigators in an effort to get the patient into treatment.
Withdrawal problems for 6% of infants born in NJ
Another effort will enable the health department to use $5 million to create a residential treatment program for pregnant woman and new mothers with substance use disorders. Since 2011, six percent of the infants born in New Jersey experienced withdrawal problems as a result of their mother’s addiction.
Jim Curtin, president and CEO of Daytop New Jersey, a recovery center with seven locations, agreed that funding for maternal and infant addiction programs was essential; Christie has served on Daytop’s board for nearly two decades. “The governor has really been a leader and a champion in helping to de-stigmatize this epidemic,” Curtin said, noting that efforts like this “leave providers like Daytop and other in the provider community feeling hopeful.”
Other programs announced by Christie on Tuesday include: