(TRENTON) - Two bills aimed at addressing prescription drug and opioid abuse in New Jersey were advanced Monday by an Assembly panel.
The first bill (A-3723) would require any drug treatment program operating within a state correctional facility or county jail to offer medication-assisted treatment of substance abuse disorders in order to qualify for licensing as a residential drug treatment program and be eligible to receive the benefits thereof.
Sponsors Herb Conaway, Raj Mukherji, Shavonda Sumter and Angelica Jimenez noted that the measure will help advance drug rehabilitation among inmates across New Jersey.
"Medication-assisted treatment is an evidence-based practice widely recognized by public health and addiction professionals as one of the best options in helping manage opioid addiction," said Conaway (D-Burlington). "This legislation is about making sure that effective rehabilitation methods are available to men and women suffering from addiction."
The bill, which clarifies that the use of medication-assisted treatment would not constitute a program violation, also would permit participants in special probation drug court to take advantage of medication-assisted treatment.
"Part of the objective of every correctional facility should be to provide inmates with the tools they need to ensure that they never return," said Mukherji (D-Hudson). "Medication-assisted treatment can advance the dual mission of promoting recovery and preventing recidivism."
"This bill represents a much-needed shift in our approach to treatment," said Sumter. "Whenever an individual makes the decision to seek the help they need, we ought to ensure that all the appropriate resources are available."
"Correctional facility inmates who want to turn their lives around ought to have the opportunity to do so," said Jimenez (D-Bergen/Hudson). "By treating addiction as the disease it is, this legislation will help give more New Jersey residents hope of successful recovery."
The second bill (A-3955) would require the development and maintenance of a database to advise the public about open bed availability in residential substance use disorder treatment facilities. Under the bill, the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services in the Department of Human Services would establish and oversee a public database that would track the number of open beds available for treatment in each facility that receives state or county funding.
The legislation aims to make more efficient a process many New Jersey residents find overwhelming, said sponsors Conaway, Daniel Benson, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Sumter and Mukherji.
"The fact that individuals who want treatment must repeatedly call multiple treatment centers to find out if beds are available - often to be rejected over and over again at a time when they are highly vulnerable - is a significant failing in our health care system," said Conaway. "Having a one-stop resource that makes clear exactly where to find immediate openings can be the difference between someone turning his or her life around and that person giving up out of sheer hopelessness."
The database, to be displayed on the Department of Human Services website and upon request via the addiction telephone hotline and 2-1-1, would include, by county: the address and telephone number of the facility, a description of the services the facility provides, the licensed bed capacity of the facility and the number of open beds available for treatment.
"New Jersey has a duty to ensure that those who need help can access the necessary resources," said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). "By streamlining up-to-date information about drug treatment facilities, this measure will eliminate some of the frustration that currently plagues this process."
"For men and women dealing with substance abuse and their loved ones, admitting to having a problem is a very difficult first step that often is followed by feelings of helplessness and exasperation," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "This legislation presents a simple solution to a problem that is far too common."
"Indifference to any factor that serves as a hindrance to drug rehabilitation in New Jersey is unacceptable," said Sumter. "This bill's provisions will ensure that the runaround of contacting center after center is no longer a part of the recovery process in New Jersey."
"No one can overcome drug addiction alone, nor should they have to," said Mukherji. "At its core, this bill is about letting New Jersey residents struggling with substance abuse know that they will be supported in their efforts to get help."
The measures were released by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.