This is not the first, second, or even the third year that New Jersey is expected to break the state record for number of lives lost to opioid drug overdoses. In fact, according to reports, it is expected that more than 3,000 people in New Jersey will die of an opioid overdose this year, the fourth year in a row in which more lives will be lost to painkillers and heroin than the year before.
Despite prevention efforts, opiate addiction and overdose rates are continuing to climb across the state. A number of measures have been put in place over the past few years to address the problem, including:
- Changing laws in order to alter how doctors prescribe medications with the goal of decreasing the number of prescriptions handed out, lowering doses of new prescriptions, and increasing the monitoring of patients taking these potentially deadly drugs
- Stepping up drug busts of ongoing drug rings responsible for pumping drugs into the state and continuing to prosecute drug dealers
- Increasing the number of treatment programs across New Jersey and opening up access through millions in grant money
- Continually focusing on the problem of addiction in political campaigns and government agenda-making
While these efforts have had a positive effect in that the numbers of overdose deaths likely would be far higher than they are now without these interventions, the question remains: What can we do to turn the tide and start to decrease the number of lives lost to opiate addiction in New Jersey?
What Is Stopping the Healing Process?
With increased access to treatment, more and more people should be able to avoid overdose and stop using all substances entirely, right? Not so. According to a report called “A Modern Plague” provided by former Governor Jim McGreevey, there may be significant issues with how individuals and their families access and connect with treatment.
According to the report, a 28-day inpatient detox that is followed by 90 days of outpatient services is not as seamless as it should be. That is, at every stage of transition, clients are relapsing in large numbers, and many of those relapses mean a return to active addiction and/or overdose death. In fact, about 90 percent of people in treatment for addiction are not there for the first time, and they are the lucky ones. Too often, the families of people who relapse and return to active addiction have a difficult time trying to figure out how to get their loved one back into treatment, not just because their loved one may be reluctant to go but because the bureaucracy around treatment access is too complicated to navigate.
Said McGreevey: “When families are at their most fragile, that is not the time they can investigate a network. It ought to be established for them. We can’t ask families to navigate themselves through hell.”
Long waiting lists are also a problem, even with all the money invested in increased access to treatment. Whether they are entering treatment for the first time or the fifth time, patients have to wait for a spot to become available, and many are dying during that period.
Additionally, treatment programs may not offer all the treatment services that a person may need access to. For example, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) has been proven to be an exceptionally effective method of helping someone to get through the detox process safely at their own pace and limiting the incidence of relapse along the way, yet only about 25 percent of treatment programs in NJ offer buprenorphine and/or methadone.
Studies also show that continued engagement with support options such as mentoring, job skills training, and social services can have a significant impact on the ability of an individual and their family to stay on the sober path for the long-term.
What Does Your Family Need to Heal?
Healing after addiction is not just about stopping use of all substances or managing withdrawal symptoms associated with detox. It takes time to truly embrace the principles of sobriety and to build a whole new life for oneself. What treatment and support services do you and your loved ones need to turn over a new leaf in recovery?