New Jersey will receive more than $30 million in new federal funding to expand its work to prevent and address opioid addiction, including more support for programs to help some of the most vulnerable patients connect with proven clinical treatments.
State health and social service officials announced Friday that the administration was awarded nearly $21.6 million by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to boost access to medication assisted treatment, or MAT, now considered the gold standard in opioid treatment, efforts to reduce the use of these highly addictive drugs, and programs to prevent opiate-related overdoses.
The SAMHSA funding will also support initiatives to promote opioid alternatives, officials said, like use of the protocols developed by leaders at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center, in Paterson, which has helped reduce opioid use in the emergency room by 86 percent in two years.
The Garden State will also receive $5.3 million from the Health Resources and Services Administration to expand access to integrated treatment services at certain community health centers for patients diagnosed with both substance-use disorders and psychiatric problems; experts agree that most vulnerable patients with addiction issues also struggle with mental health challenges.
Hundreds of babies born addicted in NJ
Another $3.4 million is being provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help counties expand treatment and prevention programs, including those aimed at preventing addiction in pregnant women and infants. Nearly 700 babies in New Jersey were born addicted to opioids in 2016, state figures show, and the state launched a campaign this spring to raise awareness about the issue and encourage proper care for mothers and infants.
“Every day, the opioid epidemic devastates communities and families in all corners of our state. New Jersey is working diligently to develop and implement data-driven strategies that will save lives and expand treatment options for those struggling with addiction,” Gov. Phil Murphy said. “This funding will help us provide expanded services to those suffering from addiction and build a healthier, safer state for all.”
The funding comes from three agencies under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which is leading the federal government’s response to the opioid crisis with a five-point strategy that includes improving prevention, treatment, and recovery services. (Dr. Anthony Ferreri, HHS regional director, spoke at the NJ Spotlight roundtable on addiction earlier this month.)
Last week, the HHS announced that nearly $930 million in SAMHSA grants would be distributed through its State Opioid Response program, with funding allocated to all states based on their population and the impact of the disease. New Jersey was one of ten states to receive extra funding due to its particularly high death rate.
Drug-related deaths continue to rise
The Garden State has already lost more than 2,000 residents to drug-related deaths this year, according to state figures, and officials expect more than 3,000 will have died by the end of 2018, nearly double the number two years ago. Tens of thousands of residents seek treatment each year for addiction issues, and the disease impacts hundreds of thousands of families statewide.
While New Jersey has launched a number of acclaimed programs to combat the impact of addiction, experts agree more must be done to ensure all patients have access to effective clinical care, like MAT; this treatment involves the use of low-dose prescribed opioids that help block cravings and addictive behavior. NJ Spotlight’s roundtable panelists, including state Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson, agreed MAT and treatment for dual-diagnosis patients with mental health and addiction issues should be priorities for investment.
“Increasing access to medication assisted treatment to treat opioid use disorder is vital if we’re going to effectively tackle this crisis,” said Johnson, who oversees many of these programs. “New Jerseyans have lost far too many friends and family members to this epidemic and it is time to turn the tide.”
The SAMHSA funding will enable New Jersey to expand this work, officials said. Among other things, it will support efforts by state healthcare and correction officials to enhance MAT programs and recovery-support services for former inmates who are re-entering their communities, a population that is considered highly vulnerable to relapsing — and being returned to jail.
Elnahal: attacking the epidemic ‘from all sides’
The state now partners with local agencies to sponsor mobile treatment clinics designed to reach these and other patients in a handful of urban locations.
Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal said “the Murphy Administration is taking bold steps to attack the epidemic from all sides including Medication Assisted Treatment along multiple stages of an individual’s journey through recovery and through the criminal justice system.”
In addition, the SAMHSA funding will enable the state to do more to assist local emergency officials in their response to the epidemic, including expanding the use of naloxone, or Narcan, a drug that can reverse an opioid overdose almost immediately.
The substance, delivered as a shot or nasal spray, has been administered more than 12,000 times in New Jersey in recent years, according to state statistics, and is now a regular tool for emergency responders. Lawmakers are also seeking to ensure schools keep a stock of Narcan on hand.