With aim to support those addicted (and their families), state reveals 1st round of aid to initiatives

1st batch ($95M) will go to harm reduction centers and other programs that have proven their worth

The numbers are staggering — whether it’s the $95 million the state will use in opioid settlement money to help those struggling with addiction or the more than half a million people in the country who have died from opioid abuse since the crisis began more than a decade ago.

But, for anyone impacted by the crisis, the only number that really matters is one — the person whose struggle has become part of your struggle.

At a time when big dollars are thrown around in a way where they no longer register, Sarah Adelman, the commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Human Services, personalized what the state’s big announcement Wednesday meant.

“This is an incredibly important moment for me personally, as well as professionally,” she said. “This isn’t something I talk about a lot, but I have lived every day of my life impacted by addiction as the daughter of someone who’s struggled with substance use, and for years with opioid use disorder, until I lost them from complications from addiction.

“Recovery and sobriety are difficult. And, as a child and later as a caregiver, I have experienced the hole and devastation that comes with a high and low points of that journey, and I have witnessed and felt acutely the impacts of stigma and shame that take their toll and rob people of their dignity. It is heartbreaking.”

The funding announced by Gov. Phil Murphy comes with the recommendation of the state’s Opioid Recovery and Remediation Advisory Council and with extensive input from the public.

The six programs address four priority areas — harm reduction, prevention and recovery support, treatment and housing — that have been identified to receive funding over the next two to three years:

  • $24 million (over two years): Will be used to expand harm reduction and drug user health services at authorized Harm Reduction Centers, and to deploy harm reduction supplies through partner organizations in high-need areas. This will support startup and expansion by the 32-and-counting Harm Reduction Center sites;
  • $17.505 million (over three years): Will be used to expand operations at New Jersey’s 22 Community Peer Recovery Centers, which provide treatment information and other resources in supportive, substance-free environments;
  • $9.025 million (over three years): Will be used to replace and add mobile units providing Medication Assisted Treatment services in the community;
  • $19.5 million (over three years): Will be used to scale remote referrals to enable 24/7 connections to care from vetted treatment providers and harm reduction services. This statewide expansion aims to build upon federal funding that the Department of Health is using to pilot the Medication for Addiction Treatment & Electronic Referrals, or MATTERS NJ, platform in four counties;
  • $17 million (over three years): Will be used to bolster the supported housing continuum, including emergency shelter beds for immediate needs, short-term rental subsidies, transitional housing beds and permanent housing assistance;
  • $8.1 million (over three years): Will be used to expand the New Jersey Keeping Families Together program, which supports parents with opioid use disorder through housing vouchers and rental subsidies, case management, linkage to community services and therapeutic supports.

Will it help?

Most think it will. Dramatically so. In fact, the only positive from the long battles the state and the country have waged in this addiction fight is that some programs have proven their worth.

“We know what works (and) what doesn’t work,” Murphy said. “We’re doubling down on what does work. We’re expanding into other areas that are new initiatives that we also know work.”

Dr. Kaitlan Baston, the state’s health commissioner, knows this firsthand.

Baston built and led the Cooper Center for Healing, an integrated pain, addiction and behavioral health center and was an associate professor of medicine at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University.

She has extensive experience working with underserved and rural communities, where the issue still is growing.

“While we are flattening the curve for some, we are not flattening the curve for all,” she said. “And, as we’ve seen the numbers drop off for white New Jerseyans, we’ve actually seen them continue to rise in the Black and brown communities in our state, which is unacceptable. And we’re seeing disproportionate amounts of people really affected in rural areas, and staggering numbers in the elderly population.”

Baston revealed the stats to show there still is much needed work to be done.

“The good news is that we have tools that work,” she said. “Overdose deaths are preventable.”

But it will take time. That’s why Thursday’s announcement was just the first of many.

The state of New Jersey, along with eligible counties and municipalities, will receive over $1 billion in settlement funds over the next two decades. As a result, the advisory council also is undertaking longer-term strategic planning.

A goal will be to ensure that entire families will receive support, Department of Children and Families First Deputy Commissioner Katherine Stoehr said.

“At DCF, we recognize that addiction almost always has a destabilizing effect on families, with impacts on housing, employment and relationships between parents, their children and extended family,” she said.

“This crucial funding will strengthen and expand our Keeping Families Together Initiative, a powerful supportive housing program that helps DCF-engaged families remain safely together and receive important wrap-around supports and services while they work through the recovery and healing process. On behalf of all the families who will benefit from this investment, thank you to the Murphy administration for leveraging this funding to advance restorative strategies that will support generational resilience and bolster families’ capacity to act as a nurturing unit while navigating addiction recovery.”