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Gov. Christie Expands Addiction Support In New Jersey

By Kelly Burch 10/28/16

The new law has a focus on law enforcement assistance and addresses the issue of stigma.

Gov. Christie Expands Addiction Support In New Jersey

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed legislation on Wednesday that aims to expand access to addiction treatment in the state and encourage more positive interactions between law enforcement and people struggling with addiction. 

“All too often people afflicted with the disease of addiction have negative, counterproductive and repeated interactions with the criminal justice system,” the governor said. “This new law allows police officers—often the first people to discover nonviolent drug offenders in their worst state—to become a point of access for help and recovery. This law improves upon access and assistance for those suffering from addiction, helping them to obtain treatment and re-enter society as productive members.”

The bill encourages police departments to establish law enforcement-assisted addiction and recovery programs. The state’s Director of Mental Health and Addiction Services, along with the Attorney General, will oversee the establishment of programs and recruitment of participants from law enforcement and volunteers. 

The bill specifically addresses the issue of stigma, mentioning that the law must coordinate “with law enforcement officials and program volunteers to ensure that individuals seeking to participate in the program are treated with respect, care, and compassion, and are reassured that assistance will be provided.”

New Jersey has been particularly hard hit by the opiate crisis. The overdose rate in the state is many times higher than the national rate, according to a press release by Christie’s office. The governor’s office has worked to respond to the growing crisis with a number of new legislative efforts, including drug court expansion and criminal justice reform. 

Last year, when he was running for president, Christie spoke passionately about addiction

“It can happen to anyone. And so we need to start treating people in this country, not jailing them,” he said at a town hall in Belmont, New Hampshire in November. “We need to give them the tools they need to recover. Because every life is precious. Every life is an individual gift from God. And we have to stop judging and start giving them the tools they need to get better.”

Christie spoke about his mother’s cigarette habit, which led to lung cancer.

“No one came to me and said, ‘Hey listen, your mother was dumb. She started smoking when she was 16. Then after we told her it was bad for her, she kept doing it. So we’re not going to give her chemotherapy, we’re not going to give her radiation, we’re not going to give her any of that stuff. You know why? ‘Cause she’s getting what she deserves.’ No one said that,” he said. "No one said that about someone who had cancer.”

However, that is the stance many people take on drug addiction, said Christie. "Yet somehow, if it’s heroin or cocaine or alcohol, we say ... they’re getting what they deserved.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

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