How to lessen New Jersey’s drug addiction crisis

“Unfortunately one of the things that I haven’t seen is that access to treatment has not become ubiquitous,” said Stephen Stirling, a reporter for NJ Advance Media.

That was the sobering status from Stephen Stirling at the latest NJTV Drug Addiction Crisis Forum in Newark’s Metropolitan Baptist Church. Stirling’s “Herointown” series created the framework for New Jerseyans’ understanding of the depths of the addiction epidemic.

“What we have seen though, unfortunately, is the number of African-American people who have died in the past year or two has spiked dramatically,” Stirling said.

Stirling says research shows it’s primarily older users from the 70s and 80s who are now introduced to fentanyl – the powerful and cheap synthetic that’s lacing heroin that’s readily available to an unsuspecting clientele.

“From my guys in Jersey City that I work with, I said, ‘Are you doing fentanyl?’ and they say, ‘No, no, no, no, no.’ And we do the toxicology reports and every single tox screening is fentanyl, fentanyl, fentanyl, fentanyl,” NJ Reentry Corporation Chairman Jim McGreevey said. “And they were shocked, they were surprised.”

Former Gov. McGreevey says the state needs a political consensus for long-term care to stop the 28-day revolving door.

“It’s not the best practices. It’s not what yields the best results,” said McGreevey.

“When you’re working with a chronic illness it’s important that you stay connected with the individual and that you continue to provide the support for as long as necessary. If that support needs to be for one year, it’ll be one year. If it needs to be three years, it will be three years. Similar to someone that’s receiving treatment for diabetes,” said Robert Budsock, president and CEO of Integrity House.

Nonprofits say treatment becomes complicated when the addiction comes with mental illness.

“Pofessional staff needs to become more educated and needs to keep working toward fully integrating treatment, and full understanding it’s one thing to give it lip service, but we live it every day,” said Cope Center Executive Director Sue Seidenfeld.

And so do families who call the NJ Connect for Recovery hotline. Some learn how, unwittingly, they’ve been enabling.

“They don’t like that word, but during the conversation it has to come up. And we’ve been thinking of ways to use kinder, gentler words to let folks know that you need to break the cord a little bit,” said Pamela Taylor, coordinator for NJ Connect for Recovery.

Metropolitan Baptist says it has a center that helps families and the afflicted.

“We particularly like to use, let me use this phrase ‘wounded healers,’ We like to connect persons with persons who’ve gone through the pathway and who have experienced recovery,” said Rev. John Williford, associate minister for Metropolitan Baptist Church.

The Drug Enforcement Administration was at this forum and says it’s doing a number of things to combat this issue.

“We have a program called the CARES initiative and it’s looking at early childhood trauma. We’re trying to look upstream and look at it early on so that young folks that are exposed to traumatic events can get attention earlier on so that this doesn’t continue to build and build and now they seek alternative ways of dealing with that trauma,” said Christopher Jakim, assistant special agent in charge for the New Jersey division of the DEA.

The DEA has partners, such as ADAPT. It collects roughly 3,000 pounds a year of unused prescription drugs from 17 drop-off sites in Essex County. Plus it educates teens about the current deadly dangers of addiction.

“It’s not that we’re using fear tactics. Fear tactics, as far as research-based information goes, fear tactics do not work,” said Joel Torres, senior coordinator for the alcohol and drug abuse prevention team.

One person in the audience suggested that some with the disease of addiction are beyond help. Stirling, who is in recovery, responded, “A lot of people die before they find it. But, I don’t think that means that everybody can’t find it.”

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