NJAMHAA Emphasizes Education during National Prevention Week

May 19, 2017

MERCERVILLE, NJ - In recent months, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has been placing the issue of opioid addiction in focus, emphasizing the need for expanded access to treatment, as well as prevention efforts. Recently, the measure to require health insurers to cover addiction treatment, and restricting initial opioid prescriptions to five days-the first law of its kind in the country-went into effect. According to studies, people who take opioids become susceptible to addiction as soon as the sixth day of using the medications. The Governor has also proposed a measure, yet to be introduced, to extend substance use prevention education to children as young as kindergarten.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has recently awarded New Jersey almost $13 million as part of its State Targeted Response to the Opioid Crisis Grants program, which requires states to develop strategies for combatting the opioid epidemic, with special emphasis on prevention. In New Jersey alone, about 1,600 people died in 2015 from opioid overdose. The behavioral health community looks forward to seeing the impact of Governor Christie's policies and the programs to be funded by the federal grant.

The alarming and increasing magnitude of the opioid crisis demands immediate action to educate youth and the public at large, as well as expand treatment options. More broadly, mental health conditions affect about one in four people in the United States, and substance use disorders afflict about 21.5 million Americans, according to SAMHSA. Due to the staggering scale of the problem, SAMHSA is observing National Prevention Week during May 14-20, 2017, to spread awareness of mental illnesses and substance use disorders, and encourage promotion of mental health. Each day within National Prevention Week focused on a specific issue: from Monday to Friday respectively, days were dedicated to prevention of youth tobacco use, underage drinking and alcohol misuse, prescription and opioid drug misuse, illicit drug use and youth marijuana use, and suicide; Saturday is dedicated to the promotion of mental health and wellness.

The New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, Inc. (NJAMHAA), which represents New Jersey's providers of treatment services for mental illnesses, substance use disorders, developmental disabilities, and co-occurring disorders, observes National Prevention Week and continually advocates for investment in the community-based behavioral health system that is accessible to local residents and provides a wide range of services. Calling on all advocates for behavioral health care to speak out in their communities and to public officials, Debra L. Wentz, Ph.D., President and CEO of NJAMHAA, stated: "Educating both children and adults is crucial to build awareness and increase early detection of behavioral health problems, so that people can find treatment early on and live fulfilling lives. Additionally, schools need to teach from a young age about stress management, nutrition, healthy relationships, and the multitude of issues that contribute to wellness. When it comes to mental illnesses and substance use disorders, the old saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is definitely true."

The National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors found that comprehensive community-based mental health services for children and adolescents can cut public hospital admissions and lengths of stay, and reduce average days of detention by approximately 40%. Communities and schools get involved in National Prevention Week, with most activities geared toward youth, because teenagers and young adults are the most susceptible to mental illnesses and substance use disorders. In fact, three-quarters of mental illnesses emerge by age 24, and mental illnesses and suicides in young people have been on the rise in recent years.

Now, it is more crucial than ever for everyone to become informed about the early warning signs of behavioral health conditions, and how to address them by seeking appropriate medical care before a problem becomes debilitating. NJAMHAA members treat both children and adults, and represent the highest quality and value of care for behavioral health issues. NJAMHAA urges everyone who is concerned about him/herself or a loved one to find a local provider through NJAMHAA's website at http://njamhaa.org/njamhaa-member-directory.


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