Governor Urges Continued Partnership and Reaffirms Commitment to Ending the Opioid Epidemic
WASHINGTON – Governor Phil Murphy today announced preliminary 2019 year-end opioid statistics for New Jersey and reaffirmed his commitment to ending the opioid epidemic through a comprehensive, multi-pronged collaboration across several state departments and agencies. Governor Murphy’s comprehensive approach includes increasing access to evidence-based prevention and treatment programs in our communities, supporting individuals on their path to and maintenance of recovery, supporting data-driven work and strengthening system-wide infrastructure, and using robust law enforcement to stem the supply of illicit drugs. Joined by Department of Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, Department of Health Acting Commissioner Judith Persichilli, Department of Corrections Acting Commissioner Marcus Hicks, and other Administration leadership, Governor Murphy announced that the preliminary 2019 year-end data shows the loss of 3,021 New Jerseyans to suspected overdose deaths. This data suggests a three percent decrease in the number of individuals lost compared to 2018. Additionally, Governor Murphy announced that 2019 data suggests a six percent decline in the number of opioids prescribed statewide.
“The opioid epidemic has devastated too many families and communities across New Jersey,” said Governor Murphy. “To end this scourge, my Administration is guided by a collaborative, comprehensive, and multi-pronged approach across several departments and agencies. We have invested $100 million in each of our first two budgets in order to increase availability of medication-assisted treatment, provide greater access to Naloxone, enhance education and outreach efforts, and strengthen social supports for housing and employment. Today’s data gives us confidence that the targeted, evidence-based, and data-driven whole-of-government approach we are taking is making progress in our fight to end the opioid crisis in New Jersey.”
Following the Governor’s announcement, the Attorney General and Commissioners of Health, Human Services, Corrections, and other Administration leadership outlined their department’s work to advance the statewide response to the opioid crisis.
New Jersey Department of Human Services
“Just as we are finally starting to make a dent in the relentlessness of the opioid epidemic in New Jersey, Republicans in Washington are trying to hijack one of our best tools in this fight through their blatant efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act through the courts, “ said New Jersey Department of Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson. “We’ve made dramatic improvements in expanding opioid treatment in Medicaid, gotten the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone to thousands of New Jerseyans, and are getting critical treatment to the justice-involved population in our county jails. But all of our work in the Murphy Administration to stem the tide of this epidemic is threatened by efforts to gut the Affordable Care Act and the coverage gained by 500,000 New Jerseyans in our Medicaid expansion. We will keep fighting the opioid fight with all of our capacity and resources, but we need Washington to end the health care uncertainty and protect the Affordable Care Act.”
The Department of Human Services’ opioid strategy is focused on saving lives and connecting individuals with addiction to treatment. Today, the Department is launching the next step in our efforts to get the lifesaving opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone, commonly called Narcan, into as many hands as possible by making it available for free to every police department in the State and all public libraries. Law enforcement is on the frontlines of this fight, and the Department is anxious to help them be prepared to respond to overdoses and get individuals connected to treatment. As safe community spaces, libraries have become important resources in the work to save lives and build connections to treatment, and the Department appreciates librarian’s partnership in this effort. Earlier this year, we organized the largest one-day free giveaway of naloxone in the nation. In one day, the Department gave away 32,000 doses of this lifesaving drug to New Jerseyans across the state, with no names or individual prescriptions needed. The Department followed that effort by providing nearly 1,200 doses of the overdose antidote to homeless shelter staff across the State.
The Department of Human Services also is announced the next phase of their public education campaign to connect New Jerseyans to addiction treatment. The 2019 radio, billboard, internet and cable campaign will highlight 844-ReachNJ for 24 hour/7 day a week addiction support from a live counselor and connection to treatment. As part of this new campaign, the Department revised their call center so individuals can be directly connected to live assistance and we developed our ad messaging with the input and insight of individuals with lived experience of opioid use disorder and family members of those with addiction.
In addition, the Department, announced awards to county jails for opioid addiction treatment totaling $7.8 million. In October, the Department announced the availability of State funding for county jails across the State to initiate opioid addiction treatment in jail and to connect individuals to community-based treatment post-release. The Department received a robust response and are pleased to be working with county wardens across the State on the implementation of this initiative. The Human Services commitment to expanding access to treatment is anchored by our Medicaid work, including lifting health plan prior authorization requirements for medications to treat opioid addiction and our new Office-Based Addiction Treatment payment model to better support and encourage physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants to offer opioid addiction treatment in their practices. A critical component of this work is serving the Medicaid expansion population through these Medicaid addiction treatment reforms. Research has shown significantly higher rates of opioid treatment with medication in states that expanded Medicaid.
New Jersey Office of the Attorney General
“For the first time, we’re seeing numbers that appear to indicate we are holding the line in our fight to end the opioid crisis, and that’s encouraging,” said Attorney General Grewal. “But experience tells us that addiction is a relentless disease and recovery is not a linear process. We cannot assume we have turned a corner in this battle. We must continue to attack the addiction crisis from all sides, using prevention, treatment, and enforcement as means to defeat this deadly epidemic.”
Over the course of 2019, Attorney General Grewal continued to advance New Jersey’s fight to end the opioid epidemic through a series of initiatives and actions that focus on prevention, enforcement, and treatment. This work brings together authorities housed in a number of Divisions within the Department of Law & Public Safety and is coordinated by the Office of the New Jersey Coordinator for Addiction Responses & Enforcement Strategies (NJ CARES).
As the State’s chief law enforcement officer, the Attorney General worked to end the trafficking of dangerous drugs like heroin and fentanyl. Under the supervision of the New Jersey State Police, the Attorney General’s Opioid Enforcement Task Force dismantled 11 heroin “mills” in 2019, four of which were collectively linked to heroin stamps associated with 358 overdoses, including 133 fatalities. The Attorney General increased access to treatment by expanding Operation Helping Hand (OHH), a drug diversion program that has linked more than 700 individuals to treatment or recovery sources. In 2019, OHH expanded to all 21 counties in New Jersey, funded in part through state and federal grants. In addition, the Attorney General helped launch around-the-clock “Opioid Response Teams” in five hard-hit municipalities: Newark, Camden, Paterson, Trenton, and Toms River. In 2019 the Attorney General also continued his efforts to hold accountable those most responsible for fueling the opioid crisis, filing a civil lawsuit against eight members of the Sackler Family, owners of Purdue Pharma, which manufactures OxyContin and other prescription opioids blamed for the addiction epidemic. At the same time, the Attorney General took action against doctors, pharmacists, and other health practitioners who recklessly and indiscriminately prescribed addictive opioids to patients without a sound medical basis, with a total of 26 professionals facing revocation, suspension, or restriction of their medical licenses in 2019. In working to stop addiction before it starts, the Attorney General partnered with the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association to produce a video to educate student athletes on the dangers of opioids and offering alternative solutions to sports-related injuries. The video is now required viewing for 16,000 student athletes and their parents.
New Jersey Department of Health
“The overdose epidemic is a complex, evolving public health challenge,” said Department of Health Acting Health Commissioner Judith M. Persichilli. “To help ensure more residents are connected to services and treatment, the Department of Health is engaging healthcare providers, harm reduction centers, local health officials and emergency care providers to build on the state’s comprehensive and integrated approach to reduce overdoses.”
The Department of Health is helping providers better serve individuals living with substance abuse disorder and reduce the risk of opioid addiction and overdose through several programs. The agency’s 5 Minutes to Help initiative, which has already trained 75 individuals, is educating emergency medical responders on appropriate communication with patients following an overdose so they can effectively provide patients with information on recovery resources available. The Department is also providing training and curriculum to hospital emergency department staff to reduce opioid prescribing to treat chronic pain through its Opioid Reduction Options program. Through the Department’s Naloxone Standing Orders program, which allow pharmacists to dispense the opioid antidote without a prescription, the state is increasing access to this lifesaving tool. There has been 63 percent increase in pharmacists and a 30 percent increase in pharmacies participating in 2019.
The Department of Health is also expanding services at New Jersey’s seven Harm Reduction Centers to help populations particularly vulnerable in this epidemic to make safer choices. In addition to providing access to new syringes, overdose prevention education, naloxone, and HIV and Hepatitis C testing, these centers are offering outreach, counseling and care coordination. Given the increasing impact on communities of color, the agency will feature the overdose epidemic prominently in a series of health equity forums that will culminate in its Population Health summit later this year.
New Jersey Department of Corrections
“The New Jersey Department of Corrections is committed to partnering with the Murphy Administration on sustainable solutions to combat substance use disorders,” said Department of Corrections Acting Commissioner Marcus O. Hicks, Esq. “Our correctional MAT program, paired with behavioral therapy and support services is one way we support successful reentry into society. Subsequently, our comprehensive treatment efforts show promise in reducing recidivism rates and ultimately saves lives."
The New Jersey Department of Corrections screens each offender entering its system for all classes of addictive substances. During intake, individuals are assessed to determine the need for one or more treatment pathways including: Federal Drug Administration approved medication-assisted treatment, behavioral therapy, and/or mentorship as part of a Peer Navigator program. The Peer Navigator program includes a Peer-Entry Specialist, who helps educate inmates on the services available at intake, and a Peer-Reentry Specialist assigned six months pre-release, who assists with reintegration into society for up to a year. Approximately 2,516 patients have been on MAT while incarcerated. Rutgers has trained about 470 Peer Navigators and 953 offenders have agreed to participate in the Peer Navigator program as a mentee. The Peer Navigator program is under evaluation by Rutgers University with preliminary results demonstrating overdose reductions and an increase adherence to treatment and recovery. To expand the reach of addiction treatment services, the NJDOC awarded 21 county jails an $8M grant to develop MAT programs with a continuum of services post-release, modeled after NJDOC’s best practices. Twenty of the 21 facilities have accepted the funds.
New Jersey Department of Children and Families
“We know that substance use rarely occurs in a vacuum,” said Mollie Greene, Assistant Commissioner for the Children’s System of Care within DCF. “It’s often a response to a number of co-occurring challenges, including generational trauma, poverty, mental health conditions, physical illness, family disruption or distress, and more. At DCF, we know that a healthy, loving family can be the most important recovery support to help caregivers and youth alike overcome substance use challenges and connect to a healthier future.”
The New Jersey Department of Children and Families continues to support Governor Murphy’s vision to combat the opioid crisis by addressing substance use and its impact on the family. Recognizing that substance abuse in the household is identified as one of the adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that can potentially affect a child’s long-term health and wellbeing, the Department recognizes substance abuse as more than an individual challenge – rather, as a family crisis, calling for family-based solutions.
During this administration, the Department has expanded the Keeping Families Together (KFT) model of supportive housing and wrap-around services for child welfare involved families dealing with multiple challenges, including caregiver substance use, who would otherwise face homelessness or child protective removal of children. Through the program, as of mid-December 2019, there are 611 families housed safely, together. In addition to KFT, in this administration the Department is executing a Statewide implementation of Peer Recovery Support Services, which augment child protection services by linking substance-involved caregivers with peer coaches and mentors to assist them in their recovery. The Department of Children and Families has also advanced a statewide Plans of Safe Care protocol for substance-affected newborns referred to the Department, connecting moms and their infants to services and supports that promote the protective factors and improve child and maternal health.
New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development
“We know from experience that one determinant of successful long-term recovery is a job, so a primary goal of the Labor Department is to create a support network leading to sustainable employment for residents affected by opioids,” said Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo. “We’ve also undertaken initiatives to teach our field staff and partners how to recognize and respond to an opioid overdose, including administering the anti-overdose drug naloxone, and we’re engaging with Youth Corps staff to help improve employment prospects for at-risk youth.”
The Department of Labor’s primary efforts are to create the pathways and connections required to support people affected by opioids in their path to sustainable employment. Informed by a new working relationship with the Department of Human Services’ Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services, and funded by the Governor’s $100 million strategic investments to combat the opioid epidemic, DOL provided grant funding to six counties to promote integration of recovery and workforce services.
Six counties (Atlantic, Camden, Essex, Middlesex, Monmouth and Ocean) began work in June 2019. The goals of the grant, i.e., integrated services that lead to employment and retention for a hard-to-serve population, required new coordination, new case management strategies, and innovative partnerships that would have been difficult to incentivize without the governor’s funding. Early results show 172 participants have enrolled in training programs, and 145 have been in jobs for at least 90 days. Additionally, 107 partnerships have been created between workforce service providers and recovery/treatment centers, and 141 partnerships have been created between grant recipients and employers.
Additional efforts by DOL include training both state and county workforce development board staff, as well as our service providers, on opioid use disorder awareness and naloxone administration. The goal of this training is to deepen our cultural humility towards opioid use disorder and improve how we engage both the opioid-affected employment seekers as well as employers who need workers. Since November, more than 90 staff received training.
For more information on Murphy Administration’s work to combat the opioid epidemic, click here.