Gov. Christie Fully Focuses on Battling the Opioid Epidemic in his State of the State Address

In the first 15 minutes of his one hour and 15 minute final State of the State address, Governor Chris Christie spoke of economic progress in producing jobs and reducing unemployment during his tenure; pension reform and the upcoming $1.9 billion payment to be made to the pension; tax cuts New Jerseyans will see this year and next, including getting rid of the estate tax in 2018 and a special exemption for veterans; and provided a summary of how the five central priorities of his 2016 State of the State were achieved in full or in part. The remaining hour was spent focused on the "crisis of addiction" and how he plans to battle the opioid epidemic.

The Governor told the heartbreaking story of Pam Garozzo who was present at the vigil held on December 21st to honor her son's 10.5 months of sobriety, only to lose him a few days later to overdose. Gov. Christie stated strongly that addiction is a disease, not a moral failing, adding that it is a disease that can be treated. He spoke at length about the costs of addiction - in our schools, our medical community, the criminal justice system and the economy at large - and noted that it is only by the grace of God that a family has not been touched by this epidemic and that could change at any moment.

Citing escalating state and national statistics, Gov. Christie said there is nothing more important he could do in his last year as Governor than to fight this battle and he encouraged those present and viewing, "Let us start together today."

"Governor Christie's diverse strategies are inspiring and exactly what is needed to address these complicated issues that are leading to tragedy in thousands of lives throughout our state and nation," Debra L. Wentz, PhD, President and CEO of NJAMHAA. "While these initiatives are greatly appreciated, much more needs to be done as addictions, as well as co-occurring mental health disorders, are highly prevalent throughout New Jersey. Substance use disorders cannot be treated in a vacuum. Integrated care is essential and it has been proven to be much more effective than treating either illness in a silo.

Gov. Christie described several approaches he will be taking:
* The creation of a website and hotline (1-844-REACH-NJ, that will be up and running today and will provide information for families to help them access services, both public and private.
* The continued investment to support mental health and substance use treatment with the addition of $127 million to the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services' FY 2018 budget.
* The investment of $12 million for the Department of Children and Families to open 200 beds for 18- and 19-year-olds.
* Direction for the Education Commissioner to develop a new curriculum on opioids for every age group, starting with kindergarten.
* Expansion of Project Pride through which inmates speak at schools.
* Increase of funding for college campus recovery housing by $1 million.
* Work with the Legislature on making sober living homes available throughout the state.
* Provision of $5 million for expanding the Pediatric Behavioral Health Hub pilot.
* Asking the Attorney General to use emergency powers to limit the supply of opioids by limiting initial prescriptions to five-day supplies versus the current 30-day supply.
* Establishment of the Governor's Task Force on Drug Abuse Control, which will "spearhead a multi-pronged attack on the addiction crisis."

Governor Christie also directed Elizabeth Connolly, Acting Commissioner, Department of Human Services, to call upon Seema Verma, the new Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, to eliminate the Institutions for Mental Disease (IMD) exclusion that prevents states from drawing down federal funds for any person served in a facility with more than 16 beds.

Noting the bail reforms that went into effect last week and past changes to "ban the box", the Governor pointed out the large role employment plays in preventing recidivism and said he will be working with Koch Industries and their General Counsel Mark Holden to break down barriers to the formerly incarcerated.

Gov. Christie also challenged the State Legislature to put a bill on his desk in 30 days that will prohibit insurance companies from denying, or even requiring pre-authorization for, the first six months of inpatient or outpatient substance use treatment.

In closing, Governor Christie acknowledged the uniqueness of this State of the State address, noting that when "our children are dying, New Jerseyans would be offended" if it was anything other than taking on the addiction epidemic. He summed up by saying, "We need to stop judging, and start understanding" and that "No life is beyond redemption."

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