Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday delivered his penultimate State of the State address, devoting most of the hour-plus-long message to a detailed plan to fight drug addiction, and calling on educators, lawmakers, clergy and others to take action in the crisis “more urgent to New Jersey’s families than any other issue we could confront.”
Speaking at the State House in Trenton, the governor cited statistics in the drug overdose epidemic – for example, nearly 1,600 New Jerseyans lost their lives to drugs in 2015, as well as personal anecdotes of friends, employees and others who have struggled with addiction, to describe the depth of the opioid and drug addiction problem.
He then laid out specific steps he plans to fight the drug epidemic in his last year in office, including:
- The Administration on Tuesday launched a new “one-stop” website and hotline for information on drug treatment, available at reachnj.gov or 1-844-REACH-NJ.
- Schools are being enlisted: State Acting Education Commissioner Kimberley Harrington is being directed to develop new, specific curriculum in every school on opioids, tailored to every age group, beginning in kindergarten.
- “Project Pride,” a program that brings minimum security prisoners to middle and high schools to talk about how drug abuse led them to addiction and prison, will also be expanded.
- In colleges, an additional $1 million will be provided for college housing programs for students in recovery, so-called “recovery dorms.”
- Christie also vowed to provide $127 million for drug treatment from behavioral health providers – the same amount as last year – plus an additional $12 million for recovery treatment beds for 18- and 19-year olds seeking help with drugs.
- He called for easing regulations and code to permit development of substance-free “sober living homes” for those in recovery.
- He announced an Employment Opportunity Summit will be held in the spring, to ensure the state will help people find jobs, and become productive citizens, after incarceration and/or addiction.
- The governor called on lawmakers to create a new law mandating that no citizen with health insurance can be denied coverage for the first six months of drug treatment. He also took a swipe at advocates for legalizing marijuana, citing studies that show early use of any illicit drug increases the risk of addiction to other drugs.
- He took aim at prevention by directing the state Attorney General to use emergency rule-making and other regulatory reform to limit health care providers’ prescription of opioid-based pain medication. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, four of every five new heroin users got started by misusing prescription painkillers.
- He also created a new Governor’s Task Force on Drug Abuse Control, to mount a coordinated attack on drug abuse by working with all areas of state government. The current Schools Development Authority CEO, and Christie’s former Chief Counsel Charles McKenna, was named chairman.
As part of its 2016-2017 goals, the New Jersey School Boards Association last year began planning a forum on opioid addiction. The training program will take place in the spring.