Gov. Christie Signs Two Major Addiction Bills In Garden State

By Zachary Siegel 12/17/15

Say what you want about Christie, he is doing his best to keep people with addiction alive.

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Gov. Chris Christie recently signed two bills to curb the destruction that addiction, particularly to opioids and heroin, have had in the state of New Jersey. One bill mandates sober housing residences for students at most state colleges and universities, and the other would allow people in drug court to be on medication-assisted treatment (MAT), such as Suboxone.

In a statement to the press, Christie said, "We remain firmly committed to confronting the stigma of drug abuse and addiction in the Garden State.”

"The legislation I have signed continues our efforts on these important fronts by providing a substance abuse housing recovery program for impacted students at our public colleges and universities as well as allowing medication-assisted treatment as part of our larger drug court treatment programs," he continued.

The Fix covered sober-living on college campuses at the beginning of the school year. Schools with these programs statistically have less problems associated with drinking and drugs on campus.

The new bill (S-2377/A-3719) requires that state colleges and universities who have at least 25% of their student body living on campus must a sober-housing residence within the next four years.

"The data is clear,” said state Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex) to NJ.com, “Schools that have this kind of housing have higher GPAs and lower dropout rates."

He continued in a statement, "This is going to be great for students at these schools. You can of course be in recovery in college, but it's that much more difficult when you're living with people who don't have the same addiction as you and you don't have that support network around you."

The bill affects the following New Jersey schools: Rutgers New Brunswick, Ramapo College, The College of New Jersey, Montclair State University, Rowan University, and Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.

The second major win in New Jersey deals with allowing medications such as methadone and Suboxone in drug courts. Last August, the state saw major pushback from law enforcement when it was awarded $950,000 by the federal government to expand the use of medication-assisted treatment (MAT).

"It's sort of an ironic stigma,” said Vitale. “Some people think that people that are using these treatments are not clean and sober, when that's really not the case."

The ongoing argument against MAT in the courts is “sort of an old-school mentality," Vitale said. While methadone and Suboxone are indeed opiates, people on these drugs are receiving treatment services and are doing their best to get well.

Studies demonstrate old school abstinence only treatment models are leading to an uptick in opiate-related mortality. Once the user is clean for some time, his or her tolerance will diminish significantly. If a relapse were to occur, because the recreational dose of opiates is very close to the lethal dose, overdose is imminent.

New Jersey happens to have one of the highest overdose rates in America. The hope is these two bills will stem mortality and promote multiple pathways toward recovery-oriented solutions.

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.

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