Christie Declares War on Drugs 'Hasn't Worked'

By Paul Gaita 12/23/14
With heroin-related deaths on the rise, Christie vows to implement a new strategy to combat addiction.
Christopher Halloran /

As deaths from heroin in the Garden State continue to mount at an epidemic rate, Republican Governor Chris Christie has called for an overhaul of the state’s policies on addiction treatment. In an interview with NJ Advance Media, Christie said that the heroin and opioid problem in New Jersey has grown so untenable in the past few years – the drugs claimed more than 740 lives in 2013 alone – that previous strategies to combat the tide have been invalidated. “I think what we’ve seen over the last 30 years is that it just hasn’t worked,” Christie said. “We need to treat it as a disease. And not having mandatory incarceration for non-violent offenders, but having mandatory treatment is something that’s going to yield a much greater result for society in general, and for those individuals in particular.”

But as Christie notes, accomplishing this goal will take more than simply asking the state to fund more treatment centers. As it stands, the sheer number of beds, as well as the myriad of hurdles placed in the path of those seeking treatment by state, medical and insurance entities can deter many from getting the help they need. Approximately 37% of New Jersey residents seeking treatment for substance abuse in 2010 did not get it, and Christie believes it’s the role of both the state and private sector to change this. “We’ve got to be able to have local government agencies say, ‘Here’s where you go, here’s the options for detox that are available, here is non-residential that’s available,’ and help to connect those dots. I think we need to do a better job at that.”

Christie has already expanded drug court as an alternative for non-violent offenders instead of incarceration, and has put in motion legislation to expand the use of Narcan (naloxone), an opioid antagonist used by first-responders that has already saved hundreds of lives. He also hopes to come to an accord with Senator Joseph Vitale over bills regarding issues of treatment, prevention and education about heroin that have already been passed by the state legislature. But issues regarding the lack of available funds from the private sector have already raised a red flag, as has the perception that Christie is taking the stance to draw attention to his possible bid for the White House in 2016.

However, Christie believes that his track record speaks for itself in regard to the veracity of his beliefs on drug treatment. “I think those are things that a governor can and should do on issues you feel really strongly about, and there are very few issues that I feel as strong about or more strongly about than this one,” he noted.


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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.