NJAMHAA Recognizes Progress for Mental Health, Substance Use Services under Christie Administration

January 9, 2018 -
Under the Christie Administration, great strides have been achieved in expanding access to community-based treatment and support services for individuals with substance use and/or mental health disorders. Efforts must be expanded and funding needs to be increased to ensure prompt access to high-quality services, which have been proven to save lives, greatly enhance quality of life and prevent costly hospital care and incarceration.

"Governor Christie has always been a true champion for individuals who are struggling to overcome addictions, and their families. He raised visibility of substance use disorder and is helping to eliminate stigma by declaring it is a disease like other diseases. Given how stigmatizing an illness addiction has been, this helped to turn a page for the field in New Jersey and nationally," said Debra L. Wentz, PhD, PhD, President and CEO of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, Inc. (NJAMHAA).

One of the many highlights of Gov. Christie's achievements in 2017 alone are the unprecedented investment of $200 million for more than 20 initiatives focusing on prevention, treatment and recovery. This funding will support residential treatment for pregnant women and new mothers, increased availability of medication-assisted treatment, $20 million for intensive integrated services to fight the opioid crisis and $5 million for the expansion of substance use treatment at several facilities throughout the state. This year, Gov. Christie also signed legislation that allows all pharmacies to sell Narcan, the antidote for opioid overdoses, without a prescription; a law that guarantees insurance coverage for up to 90 days of substance use treatment without prior authorization; and a law that limits initial opioid prescriptions. He also authorized the creation of more than 800 beds for treating psychiatric substance use and mental health disorders; expansion of treatment beds for 18- and 19-year-olds so that they can be served in either the adult or children's system; and expansion of the Pediatric Behavioral Health Collaborative, which trains pediatricians to screen youth for trauma and mental health and substance use disorders, and provides them with consultations with behavioral health professionals.?

The high prevalence of behavioral health disorders (one in four individuals has a mental illness and many also have substance use disorders) underscores the critical importance of ensuring prompt access to high-quality services.

"While the service delivery landscape is being restructured, we hope to improve reimbursement, advance workforce development, include social determinants, such as housing, education and employment, in healthcare models and see parity is fully enforced. The emphasis on wellness and recovery in the community must be furthered," Dr. Wentz said.

"There needs to be assurance that current programs continue with adequate reimbursement rates that have inflationary factors incorporated to keep pace with the cost of living. This funding would help ensure that direct care professionals stay in their invaluable positions and provide consistent care to individuals in need. In addition, increased funding for expansion of treatment and support services, such as supported housing and employment, is necessary so that everyone in need of services has access to them," Dr. Wentz added.

"Specifically, capacity of partial care, outpatient and residential programs for both mental health and substance use treatment needs to be restored. Rate increases are needed to achieve this. Rates and policies for Community Support Services need to be improved so that these programs can continue to be available to individuals in need. The Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services has been examining this more closely," Dr. Wentz said. "Funding is also needed to continue and expand supported employment and other services that enable individuals in recovery from mental illnesses and substance use disorders to rebuild their lives."

"There needs to be a huge infusion of new funding because the suicide rate in New Jersey is continuing to increase and the risk of suicide is greatly increased by untreated substance use and mental health disorders," Dr. Wentz said.

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